Friday, June 28, 2013

Review of The Seven Tales of Trinket

The Seven Tales of Trinket by Shelley Moore Thomas is a little gem for MG readers. Artfully retelling different folk tales, this novel reminds me of Grace Lin's Where the Mountain Meets the Moon, only these tales are Celtic in origin and voice. The MC, eleven-year-old Trinket, goes on a quest to find her long lost father after her mother dies. She takes a faithful friend, Thomas, and along the way shows both cleverness and growth as she strives to become a bard like her father. I found this book in the "new books" section of my local library, though its copyright date is 2012.

  • strong, likable protagonist
  • lyrical writing
  • believable growth of the protagonist as she deals with feeling abandoned
  • the friends make mistakes, but always watch out for each other
  • coherent, original  weaving of seven different folk tales with fresh writing
  • each folk tale becomes the inspiration for the young bard's songs
  • great messages-the importance of perseverence, looking beyond appearances, and forgiveness
  • the story follows a predictable fantasy story arc-to achieve her goal, the protagonist and her loyal sidekick go through a series of trials  on the road to ultimate success
  • the ending is predictable, though MG readers may not think so

While the nature of telling multiple different folk tales lends itself  to natural reading breaks, I found the main story arc connecting them all compelling enough to keep me turning the pages. Despite my best intentions to be frugal with giving 5 star reviews, The Seven Tales of Trinket was such an enchanting read, I just can't help it-5 stars!

Friday, June 21, 2013

My Debt to J.K. Rowling

Unless you count a brief attempt to write a historical novel  at age 13 (aborted after one meandering chapter), I have not harbored the ambition to be a writer all my life. As a young child I read as voraciously as Eric Carle's caterpillar ate, and the magic of novels has continued to captivate me as an adult. So what turned this reader into a writer? The answer involves both J.K. Rowling and motherhood.

Once upon a time there was a mother who (mistakenly) believed that Harry Potter was He Who Shall Not Be Read. She lovingly read all the classic picture books and new favorites to Daughter #1, teaching her to read from age 2 so that she, too, could inhabit the wonderful worlds found in novels. When Ms. Rowling’s books became famous, the mother grew sad that the local library had so many books unsuitable for her precious now-ten-year-old child and not enough fantasies to meet her standards. Wanting something completely different from HP (though she never read the books!), the mother determined to write her own bedtime tale to tell her princess. An image of a hedge and a forest and a princess grew in her mind. But princesses, or girls who become princesses, fill the pages of countless fairytales. Novice though she was, the mother didn’t want to write the same old story redone, so she twisted the fairytale premise around: What if the princess discovers she is not a princess after all?

And thus was born my first manuscript over a period of about seven months of first scribbling frantically by hand, and then typing and editing into the computer. Daughter read and enjoyed, and then the book was put away. A few years later I had a journalist friend beta read it and tell me she thought it was charming and publishable. Just for fun I sent it off to a few publishers, who never pulled it from the slush pile. The story was meant for my children to enjoy above all, so I brushed off the rejection and the idea of writing, except I dabbled a little with a sequel until life got too busy.

 Then last year my youngest girls encouraged me to try again. “Mom, when are you going to publish that book?” I think they secretly hope that I am the next J.K. Rowling, as in “if you sell lots of books, Mom, you’ll be rich and we can have lots of cool stuff.” HA! I haven’t the heart to tell them how UNlucrative writing really is.

It is flattering to have your children believe you can beat the odds, though. Out came the MS from electronic storage. Several (okay, more than several) overhauls later, it is close to being query-ready. More importantly, I wrote another unrelated novel and somewhere along the way more ideas with plenty of details have popped into my head. With two completed novels in the polishing stages, I know without a doubt that I can turn my “what if’s” into books and I am hooked. Whether I can hook any publishers remains to be seen, but if my writing future has a happy ending, I’ll be sure to let you know. And yes, my first acknowledgments page will have a nod to Ms. Rowling for her unwitting inspiration.

So, for those of you authors born without pen in hand, what inspired your writing journey?

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

The Quest to Write a Good MG/YA Fantasy

What makes a good MG or YA fantasy? When I began writing my first novel, a MG fantasy, my research consisted solely of years of reading the genre for pleasure.  That in itself was enough to pick up most of the standard ideas of what is expected.  Over and over since I got serious about writing I have seen advice saying to write what you love, not what you think will sell. Falling in love then, with a plot idea and enjoying the process of making it unfold, has got to be key.

After Googling the subject a little, I still believe the most important factor is the inspiration, or idea, for the plot, but it must be combined with excellent writing skills. Just about every site I visited discusses what conventions are expected, but there is a fine line between following expectations and writing a bad imitation of an overdone plot. If you are looking for a site to help you get started in writing for this genre, I like this one, and for knowing what to avoid if you seek to be original, Fantasy Faction has a top 10 cliche list.* Check out Obsidian Bookshelf* for a more extensive list of cliches. Those of us who feel naturally uncreative have a harder time coming up with ideas that are original. Nothing is more irksome than to realize midway into a work that some details too closely parallel those in another person’s book. 

As I have worked on refining my first novel and writing a second, I have spent more time working on character development. A great plot falls flat if the characters aren’t real enough to the reader. I think fantasy characters naturally tend to lend themselves toward being role models, providing inspiration in how to handle adversity. Magic happens when a writer comes up with a seemingly ordinary, or maybe even weak, character who struggles and finally succeeds in finding a way to overcome the challenges he or she faces.

That’s my take on elements of a good MG/YA fantasy. Of course that's just for starters. What else do you think is important?

*These links have been added as the original post had a link which is now broken.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Read Aloud Editing

Recently, I began a new read aloud with Lil, my youngest. The book is a MG fantasy that I am almost finished polishing. In fact, I have thought I was finished with it three other times, even begun querying and entered it in Writer’s Voice (see my first blog entry here for the opening of revision three). This time will be the last pass before starting the query process again, and her being my companion beta reader is only fitting. Prior to her prompting, the manuscript gathered dust electronically for almost six years after revision one. She is the one who, never having read it, said, “Mom, when are you going to publish that book?”

Having a beta reader who is part of my target audience is enlightening. A young beta reader can give incredibly blunt honest feedback of what doesn’t work. Her statement “that part is boring” when she first read several chapters on her own a few months ago prompted me to cut several chapters from the opening. Since our read aloud started I have made a few more modifications as we go. Some are typos that I have missed again and again in my edits which now jump out at me as I read aloud to her. Some are simple word swaps she suggested. For example, in my fairytale setting, I have a physically disabled character who refers to herself as “lame,” but Lil pointed out “crippled” is better as most kids think “lame” just means “stupid.”  Another edit involved removing an unnecessary character from a scene because Lil was confused by her presence. Most of my editing has involved older beta readers and their constructive criticism, definitely invaluable, but ultimately they are not my intended audience. Lil, at almost ten, gives me that reality check of whether the novel appeals to my audience. And there is nothing more gratifying than to hear her say, “Don’t stop. Read another chapter!”
What usual methods do you use to polish a work?