Friday, October 31, 2008

ARGH! Worst Kid's Book EVER

I just finished The Blood Root Flower by Kathy Callaway. I picked it up at the library sale a few years back-- It's a historical fiction about pioneers in Northern Minnesota.

So I was expecting something like "Little House on the Prairie."

Um...no....

The writer is proof that having an MFA and publishing a lot of prestigious literary fiction for adults does NOT mean that you're ready to write for kids. Also, just because your main character is 12 doesn't mean it's a kids book.

In the first couple chapters of this book, the beloved father died from tetanus. (OK... fine...) Then the spinster aunt committed suicide. Then things started to get REALLY bad (child abuse, kidnappers, bear-attacks, blindness, poison, tornadoes...) This book made Job look like a fun-filled madcap romp.

It WAS well written. It just was NOT a children's book by any stretch of the imagination. Sure, the jacket flap SAID it was a children's book. But it wasn't. It wasn't even YA. It was adult literary fiction with a young main character.

I can totally see why it got weeded. And it is DEFINITELY going back to the book sale from whence it came!

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Odds and Ends

Today I got up early (6:15) and found out that I'm a fabulously productive writer early in the morning! Must try that more often (teething-child permitting.)!

I also just spent a few minutes picking through my unpublished poetry to see if I've got anything Highlights worthy. I've been meaning to do that since JUNE. I found 8 good pieces, so I'll be sending them off tomorrow.

They're all from about a year ago. Ever since I started on the novel, I haven't done much poetry. Actually, I find I'm usually more verse-inclined while pregnant. It must be the hormones or something!

Monday, October 27, 2008

My Writing to do list

I'm trying to get into a new daily writing routine, one that goes something like this:

1. Ignore the election news. It will be over soon enough, and it's sapping my writing time.

2. Continue to edit WIP for at least 20 minutes a day.

3. Give 20 minutes a day to my Highlights contest entry. When I'm done with that, work on my other short stories in progress.

4. At night, when DH has the computer, start work for my next year's novel, in a notebook for now. (Until WIP becomes submission ready.)

Thesaurus: Friend or Foe?

Well, neither really. Like all reference books, the thesaurus is a tool. But unlike the rather innocuous atlas, or the simply divine dictionary, it's dangerous. It's the cross-cut saw of reference books. If you misuse your thesaurus, you can do a lot of damage, and someone will probably end up bloody.

New writers sometimes hear that a thesaurus is an excellent way to punch up their prose. What can be easier? Just remove your tired, jaded word and replace it with one of its scintillating synonyms!

Except.... "synonym" doesn't mean 'exact match.' And things get even fuzzier when you get out to the 'related words.'

For instance, imagine Annie Q. Writer has the following sentence in her WIP:

He had flashing eyes, black hair, and a rapier
wit.

"Wait!" cries Annie Q.'s critique partner. "That's a cliche! fix it!"

So AQ diligently goes to her Roget's thesaurus (I've had mine since 5th grade...it's on the edge of death) and looks up rapier.... well, the thesaurus mentions "Claymore" as a synonym. So Annie plugs it in.

Unfortunately, a Claymore with would be huge, heavy, and cleave people in two, while a rapier wit would be darting and stinging. The change of word results in a change of sword which COMPLETELY changes the meaning.

Last night I also noticed that my trusty old thesaurus (I hardly use it these days, actually, except for entertainment value) also claims that "lumbering" and "hobbling" are equivalent.

But...no. Great Aunt Mary is currently hobbling do to a fall. She's a tiny bird of a woman and could never, ever lumber, no matter how hard she tried.

A dictionary is like a pair of goggles. It can help cut down on accidents from your thesaurus. But it's no substitute for a good word sense.

No one is born with word sense. You get it by reading great writers who use words well. The more you read, the more you understand the fine flavors of every word. (Look up the ones you don't know!)

So park the thesaurus on the shelf for a while and head to the library or bookstore. Read all those excellent novels you've been putting off. Then, when you come back, you'll be able to use your tools more efficiently.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

See! I'm not wasting time!

I'm preventing dementia.

But I thought excessive web-surfing caused depression? Is that our choice? To be mentally acute, but depressed, or dementedly happy?

Sounds awfully existentialist to me.....

but probably because I am demented... just ask my friends!

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Mail Goggles

THIS is awesome. Why didn't they have this in when I was in High School so that I wouldn't send those embarrassing 'I have a crush on you" emails? Of course, they'd also have needed one for notes passed in class......

The only problem? Some of my math-impaired friends would never be able to send ANYTHING.

Now if only they'd embed a "Snopes" applet that would automatically run any maudlin or alarmist emails through snopes.com and alert the sender if they were being taken in.

Email: "Forward this to all your friends, right now! The Internet is going to start charging you a dollar every time you click the back button on your browser!!!!!"

Google: "This message has been determined to be a hoax. Send anyway?"

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Subliminal messages

And kids' health

Hmmm.... I have an overwhelming urge to rewrite my novel so that the hero starts out overweight and engages in diet and exercise!

Nope. But it's a funny thought. Can you just IMAGINE the queries editors will get after would-be authors read this????

Friday, October 3, 2008

Does "Newbery" Mean Best?

A good article from School Library Journal on recent Newbery award winners and their lack of appeal to readers.

Personally, I thought Rules by Cynthia Lord was more deserving of a win that The Higher Power of Lucky was. And I loved Hattie Big Sky but found Penny from Heaven totally forgettable. So, at least for 2007 I think the committee was about half right.

Now here's a question: What are your favorite Newbery's that most people haven't read?

I've always adored The Trumpeter of Krakow (1929) and Invincible Louisa(1934)

Then, a few years ago, I picked up Carry On, Mr. Bowditch (1956) and was surprised at how much I enjoyed it!

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Teaching students to enjoy literature

I really enjoyed This Article on teaching students to appreciate and enjoy, rather than to analyze, the classics.

I still remember how I used to DREAD poetry units in junior high and high school. We'd sit there, squirming uncomfortably in our seats, as the teacher explained that Everything. Was. About. Sex. Or maybe death. No, wait, death was about sex too.

I suppose they thought that this would make the poems more interesting to us. (All teens are interested in sex!) Instead, it took beautiful language and turned it into a game where we got to see who had the dirtiest mind.

There is a world of difference between being able to analyze a work and being able to enjoy it. I took years to recover from the feminist critique of "The Little Engine That Could" lobbed at us on the first day of AP English.

In fact, I still flinch a little every time I read it to my children. At least they enjoy it. After all, it has trains, toys, a heart-wrenching conflict, and a heroic sacrifice. What's not to like?

Well, I remember what's not to like, and it's triumph of acting that I can read the story brightly, without wincing.

In the past, it might not have been necessary to teach children to enjoy literature... maybe in a more literary culture children learned enjoyment at home. (Or maybe not. After all, Anne of Green Gables went to great lengths to make her students love beautiful things.)

This is one reason I'm glad to be home-schooling. My children can meet literary works as friends long before they're taught to pound the life out of them with the hammers of Marx and Freud.

Reading Fadiman

I'm currently re-reading Anne Fadiman's book, Ex Libris. It's a book of essays about her relationship with books and writing.

She's excellent. I feel like I know her, that I've been to her house for dinner and sat around discussing books with her. I highly recommend her to any bibliophile.