Monday, October 6, 2014

Silly Ideas

The other day, I was deep in thought about something trivial -- I was thinking about how teens today communicate. They text, they Facebook message, they use whatever apps they have on their phones... and none of that was how I had communicated with my friends as a teen. I had a basic cell phone, but texting regularly would be expensive.

So, back then, we did what everyone was doing: we used AOL instant messenger. Boy, do I cringe when I think back on those days. (Any of you guys have a "buddy list" back in the day?)

Thinking about instant messaging reminded me of this dumb story idea I had when I was in middle school. It was called "Instant Message," and it was about an 8th grade girl who had the power to mentally instant message people. Well, no, she could only mentally message one person in the whole world: this boy in her class who she had a crush on.

I think I only wrote the first scene of this story before losing interest. Please don't ask me what the plot was besides a girl mentally IM-ing her crush during Spanish class, because I really have no clue!

But as silly as that idea was, I'm glad I had it. It didn't turn out to be a bestseller (or published at all, or even finished) but it was an exercise.

It may take a dozen ridiculous ideas before I come up with one that's decent, and that's okay. I even have completed novels that I consider to be exercises. I'm not ashamed. I've grown as a writer over the years, thanks to having a lot of practice. And I'll continue to do so.

What silly story ideas have you had that you ended up not pursuing? Did you use AIM back in the 90s/early 2000s? How did you communicate with your friends as a teen?

Monday, September 15, 2014

That's Out Of Character

Several years ago, I subbed for a fifth grade teacher on a regular basis. I got to know her students well, and still remember most of their names even today. But one boy in particular stood out to me. We'll call him Travis.

Here are some of the things Travis liked to do:

- Make fun of his classmates and call them names.
- Talk back to teachers.
- Roll his eyes whenever a new assignment was given.
- Act like he didn't care about anything or any person.

I thought I knew exactly who he was. He was a bully and a troublemaker. It seemed like every time I turned around, he was doing something he wasn't supposed to be doing.

One day near the end of the school year, I was on my way to the classroom after having lunch, and Travis caught up to me in the hallway. He surprised me by making conversation.

"Guess what? I saw [whatever horror movie was in the theaters at this time] last weekend. Did you see it yet?"
I shook my head. "I don't really watch horror movies. I'm too much of a wimp."
His expression softened -- a look I'd never seen on his face before, complete with a sincere look in his eyes. "Don't call yourself a wimp, okay? It's not true. You're not a wimp."
He walked away.

Now, if I were writing a character like Travis, I would have thought the above dialogue was way out of character for him! This is the boy who called his classmates wimps all the time. This is the boy who had no shame in being disrespectful to teachers. But out of nowhere, just that once, he got all... nice.

Maybe there's a story arc I'm not aware of. Maybe something about our conversation tugged at him in a certain way, reminded him of something else in his life, and made him react the way he did.

I think of Travis every now and then when I write characters who seem like they'd be predictable, but could end up surprising someone in the smallest way.

Have you ever thought of real life people in terms of what they'd be like as a fictional character? Have you ever looked for a story arc in real life?

Monday, September 1, 2014

Review of ROCK 'N' ROLL PRINCESSES WEAR BLACK by Kelly Polark

So, once upon a time, I wore a lot of black. Who am I kidding, I still do! But years ago, I wore black clothes almost every day and was criticized for it. (Which only made me wear more black.) But anyway...

This book rocks in more ways than one! ROCK 'N' ROLL PRINCESSES WEAR BLACK by Kelly Polark is a seriously cute book that I can so relate to. Here's more about it:


Music class and recess totally rock, but being teased in school and ignored at home totally stinks. Stefani Lucas is a rockin’ sixth grader who loves music and dresses like a mini hipster in all black, but there's one thing cramping her style - her lame baby brother who manages to hog all the attention from her parents.

When classmates tease her about her clothes and even double dare her to (gasp!) wear another color, Stef decides a minor makeover may be in order. Can Stef change for others and still stay true to herself?


(Summary from Goodreads.com)

I liked Stef a whole lot. I'm always thrilled to see a female protagonist who isn't afraid to be different, and who shows readers that there are more important things than looking a certain way. And Stef was a good example.

Besides the characters, I loved all the music references. It's clear that the author really knows her rock! I admit, I'm not always familiar with artists that kids are into these days, so some classic bands were a nice change.

I think middle grade readers will enjoy this fun and fast read, as well as adults who wear a little too much black...

You can find ROCK N ROLL PRINCESSES WEAR BLACK on Amazon, BN.com, and Kobo. Check out Kelly Polark's blog, too!

Monday, August 25, 2014

Emily Ungar, Author of LIBERTY BELLE, Guest Posts Today!

Today, we have a special guest with us -- Emily Ungar, author of the middle grade novel LIBERTY BELLE, which was just released on August 12.

You can learn more about LIBERTY BELLE below, but first, Emily's here to talk about her favorite childhood books:

I really enjoyed Shelley’s recent post on favorite childhood books. As soon as I saw her image of those familiar worn covers, I felt an instant comfort. I loved all of the Beverly Cleary books, Boxcar Children, Babysitters Club, Sleepover Friends, The Gymnasts...I could go on forever! Books have always been an incredible source of comfort for me. Back when I had more time, I prided myself on alphabetically organizing my bookshelf, and within the alphabet I would also organize by series. Because my family moved around a lot, books were things I could take with me that made me feel like I was at home no matter where we were living.

I’d like to share some of my favorite middle grade series and why I fell in love with each:

The Sleepover Friends (by Susan Saunders)

This was a lesser-known series, but I loved it. It was a contemporary book about 4 friends. One wanted to be a famous film director. Another only wore outfits with red, black, and white. It’s funny the little details about people that we remember. Reading this series as a 10-year-old gave a glimpse into the splendor of teenhood--shopping in the juniors’ section, wearing yellow leg warmers (eeek!), and roller skating on Friday nights.

Babysitters Club (by Ann M. Martin)

This series is classic for anyone born into the late 70s or early 80s. You have a terrific cast of characters, strong plotlines, and no shortage of babysitting drama. Plus, how cool was it that Dawn was (as she called it) “bicoastal?” The idea of living on both coasts was pretty exotic!

The Gymnasts (by Elizabeth Levy)

I wasn’t a gymnast. In fact, I’m terrified of even doing a somersault. But there was something awesome about the group of young gymnasts who competed in events and did things I couldn’t do, like rub chalk on their hands and fly around on the uneven bars or do a back handspring from a vault. Plus, in the Halloween edition there was a gymnast in a hot dog costume. Now what other book can boast that?

The Mandie Books (by Lois Gladys Leppard)

I didn’t read too many historical books as a middle grader, but I loved the Mandie books. The main character was a turn-of-the-century girl who along with her beloved Uncle Ned solved many mysteries. It was a really sweet and suspenseful series that I read over and over again.

There are so many other series and standalone books that I adored, and I wish I’d kept more of them like Shelley did. Thanks for walking down memory lane with me, and I urge you to revisit those innocent childhood reading days of reading your favorite book under the covers with a flashlight!


Thank you for sharing, Emily! I hadn't read the Gymnasts or the Mandie books, but I loved the others.

Here's more about Emily and her fantastic-looking book, which I've read the beginning of and can't wait to read more:


On the same day she turns twelve years old, Savannah moves away from everything she’s known in sweet, sunny Georgia to preppy Washington D.C. Not only will she miss her best friends Katie and Tessa, Savannah will start a new school. She soon discovers that her schoolmates love to brag—about their clothes, their parents’ governmental connections, and even who has the in with the school authorities.

Unhappy and lonely, Savannah decides if she can’t make life better, she can at least make it sound that way. Soon she is living in the childhood home of George Washington, riding in the limo of the vice president’s daughter, and even moving into the former Luxembourg embassy.

All is well until she learns that her true friends from Georgia are coming for a visit. Now Savannah must create the life she’s been talking about in her letters—and fast! Will Savannah find herself or lose her friends?

Buy the book here:

Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/Liberty-Belle-Emily-Ungar-ebook/dp/B00MMZCR34
B&N: http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/liberty-belle-emily-ungar/1120079472?ean=2940046058567
Smashwords: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/455093

And also check it out here:

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/21802855-liberty-belle
Anaiah Press: http://www.anaiahpress.com

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Please note, this giveaway is only open to residents of the US

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About Emily:


Emily Ungar is a graduate of Indiana University, where she majored in journalism. After living in seven different U.S. states by the time she finished college, she now lives in Indianapolis, Indiana, with her husband and very curious twin toddlers. When she isn’t chasing after her twin boys, Emily loves to curl up in a chaise lounge with a book in one hand and a lemon cupcake in the other. Emily loves connecting with her readers, so she welcomes you to say hi on her blog at emilyungar.com.

Twitter: @emilyungar
Pinterest: http://www.pinterest.com/emilyungar/
Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/user/show/13863166-emily-ungar
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/emilyungarauthor

Monday, August 18, 2014

Dear Old Friends, AKA Childhood Books

During one of my most recent trips visiting my mom, I had the pleasure of going through an old box of books.

It felt like reuniting with old friends!


These were just some of the familiar faces I saw. I wanted to hug them.

Perhaps my favorite discovery was the very first book I'd ever read on my own (besides picture books and early readers): Ramona the Brave by Beverly Cleary


I remember sitting at my desk in first grade and opening this book for the first time. My teacher (one of the best teachers I'd ever had) praised me for challenging myself and reading above grade level. She pointed out that I was the only one in my class who wasn't reading a picture book during silent reading time.

This beloved book has my name on the inside cover AND includes little check marks next to each chapter title in the table of contents. It must have been quite a task to finish my very first non-picture book!

Which books were special to you when you were little? Did you happen to keep any books from your childhood?

(Please note that this is a scheduled post. I'm not around today to visit blogs, but I'll see you guys as soon as I can.)

Monday, August 4, 2014

Writing With Chronic Illness

Hey everyone, before I point you in the direction of Misha Gericke's blog, where I'm a guest today, I'd like to share one thing:

My book, Wishing for Washington, has been entered in a contest held by IndieReCon. The category is Best Middle Grade Book of 2014. If you feel like voting for Wishing for Washington, that would be way awesome and I'd be your friend forever: http://indiereconlive.com/?contestants=wishing-for-washington

Anyway, onto today's topic...

I'm at Misha Gericke's blog today, talking about ways I manage to keep writing while chronically ill. Please feel free to check it out at: http://sylmion.blogspot.com/.

Misha's got a very engaging and popular blog, so I encourage you guys to check out the other posts, too!

See you over there!

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Hello from the Revision Cave

It's dark in here.

I knew my manuscript needed work, but I didn't realize how much.

So. Much.

It's funny, before I started writing seriously, back when I was just scribbling down stories for fun and only sharing them with a few people, I didn't realize how exhausting and arduous the editing process is. I thought it was just like the editing process we had in English class:

Step 1: The teacher reads what you've written and crosses out misspelled words, adds in punctuation marks you missed, etc.
Step 2: You write a new draft, incorporating those changes.
Step 3: You're done.

Right?

I had a conversation recently, in the past few months, with someone who thought the same thing. This person isn't a writer, and they thought when I said I was editing for days, that all I was doing was checking for minor errors. Which is a part of the revision process, yes. But what I happened to be working on was not as simple. It's more like:

Step 1: Receive notes from critique partners and consider their suggestions.
Step 2: Rewrite your first chapter.
Step 3: Take out that scene later in the story that your CPs said wasn't working and write something new in its place.
Step 4: Rewrite your first chapter again.
Step 5: Change your character's reaction to an event based on the new scene you wrote.
Step 6: Now revise all of the later chapters based on the character's new reaction.
Step 7: Rewrite your first chapter again.

And it keeps going.

Never mind all the grammatical edits that happen later on.

But you know, I'm okay with being smack in the middle of this misunderstood and complicated process. I'm okay with wanting to rip my hair out because I can't think of a way to make this scene work. (Please remind me later that I said this, okay?) It's part of my job.

If this is a "rough day at work," I'll take it. Because this is something that writers can, and do, get through.

Anyone have any tales from the revision cave?
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