Friday, December 30, 2011
Wednesday, December 28, 2011
Monday, December 26, 2011
One of my students gave me an ornament hand-painted by his mother to match the cover of my book. I was reduced to tears.
My daughter Gina wrote me a guest blog post, which I will post on Wednesday.
And my other daughter Gabrielle painstakingly learned (by ear) the theme for the eleventh Doctor Who (Matt Smith) and played it on her viola for me Christmas morning.
I hope you all had a wonderful Christmas, Hanukkah, or any other holiday you celebrate ... and wishing you a good New Year's to come!
Friday, December 23, 2011
If I haven't been to your blog this week, please forgive me. This is the longest teaching week of the year, and the children's minds are GONE. I may have taught the Battles of Lexington and Concord and the Declaration of Independence this week, but I doubt anyone was paying attention. If I survive until 1:30pm today, it might be a Christmas miracle.
And in the evenings, in between wrapping presents, attending Christmas concerts, and licking envelopes, I've been furiously writing, writing, writing.
This is my Christmas card to you all ... a year of my life.
And yes, that IS my hand on Will Smith's knee. No, he didn't object ...
Wednesday, December 21, 2011
Dianne: Turn off the TV and come to dinner! (Sorcia scrambles over to the table, feet slipping cartoon style on the hardwood floor.) Not you! You’ve already eaten a slab of raw chicken big enough to have been Foghorn Leghorn.
Monday, December 19, 2011
I wrote it in high school -- in 1983, folks -- where it was published in our school literary magazine. Its title:
THIS IS NOT WHAT I INTENDED TO WRITE
"I think I have to go write now," I said, excusing myself with the best -- oh the very bestest -- of intentions.
Clever notions spilled out of my favorite pen and danced across the page -- but no Swan Lake, this -- more like the Disco Duck with a sore foot. My bright idea went jump, jump, jump down the paper giggling, "Here I am! Here I am!"
"Come back here, you little rascal!" I growled, one hand swooping like a bird of prey. But it wriggled away, clambering up the bookshelves, the little son-of-a --
Dejected, beaten, a tad perturbed, I drooped my head toward the desk. There -- lo and behold -- I discovered my opening line sitting splat at the head of the paper, sticking its tongue out at me. I lunged for the vile little creature, and my pen flipped backwards over my fingers and into the air.
It couldn't have come down yet, because I haven't found it.
Friday, December 16, 2011
Thanks to the Déjà Vu Blogfest – The Day of the Do-Over – I get to share it again!
While working on a guest post for my blog tour, trying to explain why abolitionists and suffragettes endorsed the Fox sisters’ séances, it suddenly hit me: Seances were the 19th century’s version of Twitter!
Picture it -- People receiving brief, cryptic messages sent by faceless entities from a far away place. That pretty much describes both a séance and Twitter, doesn’t it?
While I was writing the Fox sisters’ story in WE HEAR THE DEAD, I struggled to find an explanation for why intelligent and educated people like Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Lucretia Mott, and Frederick Douglass supported something that was just a clever hoax. Were they really taken in? Eventually I came to the conclusion that – just like today – people endorse things that benefit them.
People were quick to believe messages sent from Heaven, but, of course, as with Twitter, one can never be really certain of the sender’s true identity. 19th century Senator John Calhoun was a staunch (even rabid) advocate of slavery. Yet, after his death, Calhoun’s spirit (@johncalhoun if you please) visited the Fox sisters’ séances, claiming he’d been enlightened by the Truth in the afterlife and recanting his former position!
Stanton, Mott, Douglass, and other reformers knew exactly what they were doing when they endorsed the Fox sisters. They had a message they wanted to spread, and the Fox sisters, abolitionists and fledgling feminists themselves, were more than happy to cooperate. As @benjaminfranklin said in one of their séances, “Great changes are on the horizon!”
Wednesday, December 14, 2011
Monday, December 12, 2011
Today I have my brother-in-law Larry O'Donnell here with a guest post. (No, that's not him on the right.) I'm pretty sure I know what activity he was doing when he conceived and composed this little essay ...
Of Men and Cats -- Larry O'Donnell
I find cats to be curious critters. They have been worshipped in some cultures and vilified in others. Blofeld came off as a creepy Bond villain with a fancy cat in his lap. There are lots of references to cats in the Bond flicks, but I won’t go there.
I am medically diagnosed with an allergy to cats, their dander, saliva, and general presence. So, when I volunteer to clean the cats’ litter boxes for my wife, it is a real token of my affection. The cats know about my allergy, some sort of sensor they have. They swarm me and rub up against me. I usually pay the price of a stuffy nose and itchy eyes and throat.
Many folks assert that cats are lazy and lie around doing nothing all day. This is totally wrong. They do something all day and it goes in the litter box, or on the floor if their aim fails. They only eat and drink so they can continue to fill the litter boxes.
We have four cats, three of advanced age and one with just a few years on him. There are three pans full of kitty litter. They are full of other stuff too, and that’s where I come in with my opposable thumbs.
The cats use the pans even as I’m cleaning them. Of course, since I’m there, the cat doesn’t cover up his work; he just leaves it for me to deal with it. There is nothing quite like fresh cat scat. I saw a fly land on one. He jumped off, went a few hops and then threw up. Even my stuffy nose fails to protect me from the smell. I gag along with the fly.
Finally I carry the bag of sh…er waste up to the dumpster and dispose of it. Good job, unless the bag breaks. Even County HAZMAT refuses to respond to this type of mess. They jump all over nerve gas or anhydrous ammonia but draw the line at cat waste.
Sometimes I have to give two of the cats their insulin shots. (My wife asks me to “shoot the cats.” I grin and she says, “Not that way.” My smile fades and I get the syringes.) One cat comes out and says, “Shoot me up, I’m jonesin’ here.” The other one, who weighs in at about 20 pounds, flees under some furniture. There, he puts up a defense like the Russians at Stalingrad. I usually get scratched or bitten. Occasionally, I get the insulin. No problem, I just drink a quart of orange juice and eat four Milky Way bars.
Cats are strange creatures. They seem to always have a facial expression that says, “What’s in it for me?” Call one and he runs away. Shoo one and he comes to you. I don’t understand cats but they do provide me with a means to demonstrate my affection for my wife.
Friday, December 9, 2011
Wednesday, December 7, 2011
Our third selection for First Impressions in the month of December is another NaNo project. (Looks like some awesome stuff came out of November this year!) This is a middle grade fantasy by Elizabeth Prats called CRYSTAL MILK.
It has always been her story. I’m just there, living on the outskirts.
But she changed my life.
Footsteps pounded the cobbled pavement behind me. Not good at all. A trail of marinara sauce leaked down my chin as a long piece of melted cheese flapped across my face with each step. I practically choked trying to bite the last bit of cheese while running. I darted into an alley and snorted when the cheese, covered in marinara, went up my nose. It burned! I muffled the sound with a hand over my nose. I couldn’t let them hear me. Distracted, my black t-shirt caught against a nail beside a fire escape. It tore but I didn’t stop, couldn’t stop. The footsteps became louder. So loud. Much too loud. They rattled my eardrums. I bit my lip and chanced a look back. Adjusting my eyes, I stared into the darkness. Blinking I could see through the darkness. Shadows followed, large shadows that ran across the walls. Witches.
Well, this is an interesting beginning in that it simultaneously gets my heart racing and makes me laugh. The main character seems to be in deadly peril, and yet she (he?) is apparently slobbering marinara sauce and cheese from some hastily eaten pasta meal. Or was it pizza? The stringy bits of cheese make me think PIZZA, whereas marinara sauce makes me think SPAGHETTI. Maybe pick one or the other? Anyway, I love the contrasting moods presented here.
I’d like to see this paragraph broken up for better effect. I find that shorter paragraphs tend to rev up the tension a bit and help emphasize the key elements of the scene – the pounding footsteps, the alley, the shirt caught on a nail, and the sloppy sauce. Otherwise all these wonderful details can get lost in the long paragraph.
I also have a few small editing suggestions. I’d rewrite the third sentence to say: A trail of marinara sauce leaked down my chin, and a long piece of melted cheese flapped across my face with each step. For some reason, I think it reads more smoothly that way. Also, the main character is distracted, not the t-shirt, so the subject of that sentence needs to be changed or the adjective inserted a different way. Finally, these sentences -- Adjusting my eyes, I stared into the darkness. Blinking I could see through the darkness. – can be merged into one. Blinking to adjust my eyes, I stared into the darkness.
Otherwise, great job! I would definitely want to keep reading from this point. Why are witches chasing this character? And did she get to finish that marinara before she had to get up and run? LOL! Thanks, Elizabeth, for sharing your page with us. You can visit Elizabeth at her blog, Dorm Room Dreamer, and be sure to stop by Mainewords to read Marcy Hatch’s thoughts on this same page.
Monday, December 5, 2011
Our second First Impressions for December is a middle grade science-fiction/fantasy novel by Fiona Claire entitled FINDING OUT. Like the last First Impression, this is a NaNo project and a first draft.
I might be dead. If I am, it’s a shame because I didn’t say good-bye to anybody, not Dad (if he even cares anymore) or Mrs. K or anybody. But I don’t feel anything and I don’t see anything or hear anything, so . . . Doesn’t that mean I’m dead?
The last thing I remember was running, like I always do when things get too awful. And it had been a totally awful, horrible, crappy Friday. So, when I got home from school, I didn’t eat the snack Mrs. K had left out for me, or take my medicine, or even change my school uniform. I just ran outside. The air felt cool on my face as I raced across our back yard and into the wild maze of bushes and trees that we called the ‘back lot.’
It was a good place to be alone, and I made a b-line for the secret fort I’d created as a little kid. About four summers ago, when I was just eight, I’d worked hard cutting back bushes and vines to make a sort of tunnel that led directly to Headquarters.
The problem was, now it was all overgrown. I couldn’t even get a few feet down the path without the branches cutting and slashing at me. Had it really been that long since I was back here to check the place out? It must have been over a year, at least, since before . . . well . . . before a lot of things.
I ran back inside and got my pocket knife to cut back some of the bushes. Emmaline was just hanging out in her web in my bedroom window.
“Hey girl,” I whispered to her, “Wanna go for a walk?”
There’s a deceptively large amount of information packed into a short amount of space on this page. (Very neatly done, btw!) By the end of the passage, I know something bad is about to happen to the MC, so that she (he?) thinks she might be dead. (A lot of information is given, but not the gender of the speaker – however, my gut instinct is this is a girl.)
I also know she lives with a distant and seemingly uncaring father and Mrs. K (a housekeeper?); she attends a private school (the uniform), and has some kind of medical condition (the medicine she didn’t take). A year ago, something happened that caused her to stop visiting her fort.
AND she either has a pet spider – or a magical spider that lives in her room. She talks to the spider, but the spider doesn’t talk back (yet), so I’ll withhold judgment on the magical part.
There were a few things I questioned. If she hasn’t been out to this fort in a year or more, why does she make a beeline (not b-line, btw) for it now, after a Friday so crappy she doesn’t eat her snack or take her medicine? I also thought if the path was so overgrown she couldn’t make it to the fort, she’d need gardening shears, not a penknife from her room.
And the biggest question for me, what happened to this girl to make her think she might be dead? The last thing she remembers was running … and the scene starts with her running to her fort … so I expected I was going to find out right away. Then she turns around and goes back to her room. I was disappointed by this detour, but I assume the author knows exactly what she’s doing and the spider Emmaline is crucial to what happens next.
One thing is certain, the story certainly has my attention! Fiona, thanks for sharing your page with us!
Friday, December 2, 2011
As NaNo projects come to a close, a lot of writers are taking a breath and stepping back to look at their new creations. That’s why I’m excited to share this First Impression of FIX YOUR LIFE! by Judy Mintz. This is Judy’s NaNo work, which she describes as magical realism, or possibly outright fantasy.
“Move the bus! Move the bus!”
The crowd had gathered early to see what the crew of the reality show, Fix Your Life!, had done to our house in the week they’d had it under wraps. As the bus revved its engine, the volume increased.
“Move the bus! Move the bus!”
The over-sized bus began to roll lethargically away for the big reveal, and the crowd grew more frenzied. Then, as one, the chant became a collective gasp, followed by a cacophony of dismay.
Dexter, the host of the show, yanked my blindfold off and said, “Ta da!” He danced in front of me like a deranged elf, darting from one side to another so fast that I had trouble taking in what was across the road. Then I saw it. It was the same house we’d moved out of a week ago, but in much, much worse shape.
I whipped around to find the rest of my family, but there was no one else there. Not my family, not a crowd, no one. Even the bus had disappeared.
“Come on! It’s so cool. I know you’re going to love what we’ve done,” Dexter cackled. He grabbed me by the upper arm and dragged me across the street. His grip was unnecessarily tight. I could feel his long fingernails digging into my flesh. I stumbled across, trying to keep my feet heading forward while twisting the rest of me into a pretzel to look behind at the empty lot that had been chock-full of people moments before. Where did they all go?
My foot hit the curb and I would have gone splat if Dexter hadn’t had such a vise-like grip on me. “Watch your step, little lady. Watch your step.”
I’ll start with small editing items. First, I’d avoid putting commas around the title of the show Fix Your Life! because the exclamation point and the comma together look strange. You can probably just drop the words reality show, since that’s implied by the situation.
As for these lines: He danced in front of me like a deranged elf, darting from one side to another so fast that I had trouble taking in what was across the road. Then I saw it. It was the same house we’d moved out of a week ago, but in much, much worse shape. I absolutely LOVE the description of Dexter as a deranged elf! I’d eliminate the word that after the words so fast, and avoid using the word it at the end of one sentence and the beginning of the next.
Moving on to bigger things, I definitely wanted a better description of what the narrator sees when the blindfold comes off – something more than in much, much worse shape. Unless, of course, this is a dream, and from the sudden unexplained disappearance of the crowd, I guess it might be.
When the crowd gasps in dismay, it made me wonder if the story takes place in a dystopian setting, where a television show can wreck your house if they want to, and you can’t do anything about it. That would be an awesomely chilling world! But the subsequent events -- the way the crowd and the bus all vanish at once -- made me think the main character is dreaming.
If this IS a dream beginning, I’d caution Judy to think it over carefully. Starting with a dream is a device that’s been over-used to the point of becoming a “no-no” for querying writers. I’m not saying you can’t do it (and do it well!) – just be sure your dream beginning is effective enough to make it stand out among others.
And if this isn’t a dream beginning, where did all the people go?!?! What kind of creepy power does Dexter have?! I'm rather hoping this is real, because if it is, Dexter must be one sinister TV host!
Wednesday, November 30, 2011
Monday, November 28, 2011
Friday, November 25, 2011
Wednesday, November 23, 2011
Monday, November 21, 2011
Friday, November 18, 2011
My daughter Gina is here today with a review of GHOST DOG OF ROANOKE ISLAND, which she received for review from the author, C. K. Volnek.
The Ghost Dog of Roanoke Island is about a boy named Jack who lives on present day Roanoke Island with his dad. Rumor is there is a horrible monster that’s been running around. And Jack’s found it. The monster would’ve killed him except for a strange dog coming and fending the monster off.
Jack meets a Native American named Manny who knows all about the monster. He calls it the Witiku and says it’s from ancient times when English colonists were arriving. This is the thing that destroyed the people of Roanoke Island. Manny says Jack must be the one to kill the Witiku but first, Manny shows him visions of the Witiku and how it was created. The dog is legendary too and has been fighting off the monster since it was created. Can Jack defeat the Witiku? Or will it finish off Roanoke Island for the second time?
I would recommend this book to people who like to read books about magic. Anyone who knows the history of Roanoke Island would appreciate how cleverly it is worked into the story. However, the initial change between no magic and the magical visions was confusing to me. Manny throws a piece of wood in the fire and then he and Jack appear somewhere else. Up to that point, I thought the story could have been realistic fiction. Other than that one point, I thought this was a great book and a creative solution to the Roanoke mystery!
Thanks, Gina! I just want to add that I teach the Roanoke mystery in history class every year to my fifth grade students (in fact, Gina was in my history class last year for this unit!), and this is one solution to the mystery I never covered!
Wednesday, November 16, 2011
Monday, November 14, 2011
When everyone reads minds, a secret is a dangerous thing to keep.
Earlier this month, Susan Kaye Quinn launched her new book OPEN MINDS with a fabulously successful online Launch Party. Today, I bring you an interview with Susan from a writer's perspective.
1. What was the inspiration for Open Minds?
It all started as a 1st paragraph contest on Nathan Bransford’s blog. I didn’t have a “catchy” first paragraph for any of my current stories, so I decided to write a paragraph for a story that didn’t exist! I had been playing around with a story idea about a boy who was a touch empath (he could sense feelings by touch), but I wasn’t sure that would work. The night before the contest was due, I was drifting off to sleep when the image of a girl sitting in a classroom full of mindreaders popped into my head. Only she couldn’t read minds and she was painfully isolated, an outcast. I jumped out of bed and wrote the paragraph. A few weeks later, I still couldn’t get the image out of my head, and I knew I had to write Kira’s story. (BTW, I didn’t win the contest!)
2. In Open Minds, everyone except Kira can read minds. How does a society survive if everyone’s inner (and possibly unpleasant) thoughts are open for inspection?
Great question! It certainly transforms everything from social niceties (there aren’t many) to political structures (there are now honest politicians) to architecture (keeping everyone separated enough to not read your neighbor’s thoughts). But the initial time of change was one of great turmoil, as you might imagine. When I was researching the story, I actually googled “what would happen if everyone read minds” and found a thread where the discussion was evenly split between people that believed the world would end, and those that thought it would bring peace on earth. In Kira’s world, truth is something everyone takes for granted, as well as knowing all the unpleasant thoughts of their neighbors. The rumor mill is a force of nature unto itself. But society survives and adapts, as humans are wont to do.
3. What, exactly, is a mindjacker?
A mindjacker can jack into your head and control your thoughts, emotions, and even tamper with your memories. Anything your brain controls (which is basically everything), a mindjacker can mess with. You can imagine having one of these living next door might be a bit problematic.
4. Which character in Open Minds was the most fun to write about?
Simon. In every book, I have a favorite character, which is probably wrong, but I can’t help it. He has great internal conflict and he’s the bad boy (I have a bit of a weakness for those). But mostly he was fun to write because he brings out all of Kira’s hopes and dreams and flaws.
5. Any surprises for you while writing this story – plot twists you didn’t plan, characters who took the wheel and hijacked your outline?
This entire book was a surprise! I pantsed it from the beginning, starting out with just that paragraph about a room full of mindreaders and not a lot more (certainly not an outline). Here’s an excerpt from my notes as I was writing the novel during NaNo two years ago, where I discover there are mindjackers in the story:
Whoa! This story is about mind control! Uh, duh. Well, the persuasive kind to get Kira to join their "cult" - isolate, get them dependent, make them allied with you (us against the world) and then BAM! lower the boom, ask them to do the deed.
Yeah, I talk to myself in my notes. And I kinda ramble, too, apparently. But I truly didn’t know the story was about mindjacking when I started writing it.
6. Open Minds is the first book in a planned trilogy. When can we expect to see future installments?
I plan to release CLOSED HEARTS in 2012 - in May, if all goes according to plan, later if it doesn’t. I have CLOSED HEARTS and Book 3 all outlined and planned out (unlike OPEN MINDS) and I’m drafting CLOSED HEARTS right now, for NaNo 2011.
7. Is there anything else you’d like to tell us?
It's an amazing feeling to be writing the second book while people are reading the first! It's inspirational and all kinds of cool. So, if you read OPEN MINDS, write a review or drop me a tweet (@susankayequinn) and let me know what you think!
Sue, thanks so much for the interview and good luck with your NaNo writing of CLOSED HEARTS! (Is that an awesome follow-up title to OPEN MINDS or what?) You can find Sue at her website.
Friday, November 11, 2011
Today is THE day to help Jessica Bell's debut,
She will then email you a link to download the album at no extra cost!
If you are not familiar with
Rave Reviews for String Bridge:
veins, thrummed my blood into a mad rush, played me taut until the final page,
yet with echoes still reverberating. A rhythmic debut with metrical tones of
heavied dark, fleeting prisms of light, and finally, a burst of joy—just as
with any good song, my hopeful heartbeat kept tempo with
difficult balancing act of the modern woman. The writing is lyrical throughout,
seamlessly integrating setting, character and plot in a musical structure that
allows the reader to identify with Melody's growing insecurity as her world
begins to unravel … String Bridge is
a powerful debut from a promising writer, full of music, metaphor, and just a
hint of magic.” ~ Magdalena Ball, author of Repulsion
Thrust and Sleep Before Evening
scenes, from conflict, pain, intensity. She puts it all out there, no holds
barred, no holding back. She knows how to craft a scene, how to develop
character, how to create suspense. This is an absolutely brilliant debut novel.
I look forward to reading her
next novel, and next and next.” ~ Karen Jones
Gowen, author of Farm Girl, Uncut Diamonds and House of Diamonds
String Bridge: http://www.stringbridge.com/
Wednesday, November 9, 2011
Yup. I’m not proud of it, but that’s what I said when I discovered Mr. Spinelli standing behind me at a book event last Friday night. Luckily, he didn’t hear me – or if he did, he was classy enough to pretend he didn’t.
For a chronic wallflower like myself, author events are both terrifying and exhilarating. Terrifying first – the anxiety building for days in advance. Exhilarating afterwards.
When I arrived at the Local Author and Illustrator night at Children’s Book World in Haverford this past Friday, I was happy to see many faces I knew from events like PAYA and the Week of Writing at Drexel Hill University. I chatted with Jennifer Hubbard (The Secret Year), April Lindner (Jane), Susan Shaw (Tunnel Vision), A.S. King (Please Ignore Vera Dietz), K.M. Walton (Cracked), and met illustrator E.B. Lewis (The Negro Speaks of Rivers).
So, we're all standing shoulder to shoulder in this crowded but charming book store. I’m talking to K.M. Walton about her upcoming release, and she mentions she wants to get a book signed by HIM before he leaves -- and looks over my shoulder. That’s when I turn my head and discover the friendly and cheerful gray-haired gentleman signing books right behind me. I look at his name tag – and blurt out the title of this blog post.
Way to play it cool, Dianne.
Anyway, I scrambled to buy a book and get in line to meet him. He was sweet. I babbled incoherently. He continued to be sweet. And I spent the rest of the evening grinning from ear to ear, with his signed book under my arm – planning how to play it much more cool on Monday when I casually tell my students I have a signed Jerry Spinelli book for our classroom library.
Monday, November 7, 2011
Friday, November 4, 2011
Mom lied. This isn’t anything like home.
First, I have to say that Ivy reminds me of my own teenage daughter, falling completely apart and dissolving into a puddle of goo over some small frustration. Her tone, her attitude, the way she blames her mother … yup, I've lived it!