Monday, June 24, 2013

3 Months Until Release: News, Full Jacket Reveal, and FIRST ARC GIVEAWAY!

I interrupt the regularly scheduled MG post (which will be back next Monday, I swear) to bring you 3 MONTHS UNTIL RELEASE DATE HAPPENINGS!

Holy frijoles, guys. I got my book deal almost exactly 19 months ago. Hitting the three month countdown is sort of.... unreal. And exciting. And slightly terrifying. And fun.

First, a little update.
  • I'm nearing the end of second round edits for book 2. I had heard that book 2s were a beast that would try to kill you in both your waking and your sleeping hours. I knew that. Still, though, I kind of just figured that my beast was going to be a cute little meerkat, poking his head up out of his hole to greet me every morning, and we'd get along swimmingly. Turns out, it's a Balrog and we've been battling for an eternity, and it's still unclear who's going to win. (Although I'm telling you right now, it's going to be me.)
  • If we are friends on facebook, then you might've seen this a few weeks ago when I posted it, but it still gives me a thrill every single time I think of it, so I'm going to share it here, too. The American Booksellers Association chose 22 titles spread across all categories to be promoted in independent bookstores all across the country as part of their Celebrate Debut Authors with Indies program. They chose a total of four middle grade titles to push, and mine is one of them. Guys-- I can't even. I am still blown away and cry happy tears whenever I think about it. You can read the article from the ABA here.
  • I am going to ComicCon International in San Diego in a few weeks! In one of those miracle all-the-puzzle-pieces-come-together moments, I also get to go with my hubby and our three kids. It's a geek family's dream come true. (Except for my middle child who isn't a geek, and who is a little weirded out by the fact that we're going. We're hoping to convert him to geekism on this trip.)
Enough news. Let's get to the full jacket reveal! Have I mentioned how much I love my art director (Nicole De Las Heras) and my cover artist (Owen Richarson)? They rock my world. Go ahead and click on this baby and make it huge. These guys made every square inch of it awesome. It's even more amazing in person, because it's embossed-- Sky Jumpers is raised the most, and then Hope, Aaren, and then the mountains. And the title has a special treatment on it that makes it shine in the light. When my editor sent me a jacket, I petted it for like 30 minutes straight.

And now, time for a giveaway! ARCs (Advanced Reader Copies) of Sky Jumpers have been rare, and for a while, I wasn't sure I'd be able to give one away. I was so excited when I found out I'd get a few more copies, because I've been dying to share it with you guys. You've made this journey so incredible! I love hanging out with you all, even if we may never actually see each other in person. :'o) Sad, I know, but this one is a U.S. only giveaway. I will do everything I can to do an international giveaway soon.

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Have an awesome week, everyone!

Monday, June 17, 2013

Writing Middle Grade: It needs A SENSE OF WONDER!

Over the past four weeks, we've been talking about the five things that a middle grade kid (but really, not just MG kids) really crave in a novel, and that if you get some of each of the five, it'll be a much more fulfilling book. Guys! We are on the fifth one! If you've missed any of them, I've already talked about ACTION / ADVENTURE here and HUMOR here and SCARINESS here and MYSTERY here. Today, it's A SENSE OF WONDER.

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As much as science fiction would like to claim a monopoly on being able to evoke a sense of wonder, it’s much more than just the feeling that there’s more to the universe, and that it’s a large place. A sense of wonder can be evoked from the teeniest of things, and everything in between.

In Brave New Words: The Oxford Dictionary of Science Fiction
the term sense of wonder is defined as follows:

SENSE OF WONDER n. a feeling of awakening or awe triggered by an expansion of one’s awareness of what is possible

To be filled with admiration, amazement, or awe; marvel

Ways to introduce wonder:
Let’s start with genres.

Fantasy is probably the genre most conducive to wonder. Think of the first time you read Harry Potter and how you felt every time a new magic spell or magic item was introduced. Fantasy gives you huge opportunities to introduce wonder! It's one of the big draws for readers. (Not to mention how much fun it is for the writer!) One important thing to remember if you’re using fantasy– it’ll work better if you focus on character first, and get reader firmly grounded in his/her world before introducing fantasy elements.

Speculative fiction is kind of a broad genre, covering what the world could be like if things were different. There are a lot of opportunities for wonder in speculative, because it can feel like fantasy without being fantasy. Sky Jumpers is speculative. One of the biggest sense of wonders in it— the Bomb's Breath— is something that feels like fantasy, but is actually science, and brings with it that same sense of wonder.

Speaking of science...

Science— Think of today’s science experiments– think of the sense of wonder you got ask a kid whenever your teacher did a science experiment. Or when you learn how something works now. My daughter is in 5th grade, and her teacher did experiments with them every day. My daughter always comes home struck by a sense of wonder. You can tap science to huge amounts for a sense of wonder.

Setting— This can be a huge one, especially because it’s easy. Think of where you’d love to go on vacation the most. You pretty much want to go there because of the sense of wonder it will evoke, right? Whenever you can, think about putting your characters in a more interesting setting. One that evokes more of a sense of wonder. Instead of having your characters walking home from school on the street, have them cut through woods. Or a construction site. Or a swamp.Or anywhere else that's more interesting and awe-evoking than what's normal.

Characters— I read a book called Stargirl. Have you read it? Everyone was raving about it. I immediately understood why, but at the same time, I realized that the reason people loved the book was because the character is quirky, fun, spontaneous, and very different. I have a friend who’s all those things, and in a lot of ways, puts Stargirl to shame. So when I read it, I didn’t have the same reaction as everyone else. That’s when I realized that characters can evoke a sense of wonder, too, and that’s why everyone loved the book.

Be careful if you are using a sense of wonder character that’s very outlandish that it can become too much if they are a main character. Use your instinct. If their personality is wearing you out, they’ll wear out the reader, too.

Animals— There are a ton of animal books out recently that kids love– Like Guardians of Ga’hoole, Seekers, etc. Kids love those because seeing the world through an animal’s eyes brings about a sense of wonder.

Looking at an everyday something— anything— very differently than you’ve looked at it before. When I was a kid, I read a book– I wish I remembered the name of it– about a kid learning life lessons from a neighbor. Anyway, the neighbor had him really study a one inch square part of the lawn, and learn everything there was to know about it. He watched how bugs interacted with others like them and with different species and learned how they used the space and I was completely and utterly fascinated. Looking at something very closely— or in a different context than you’re used to— can evoke a huge sense of wonder. It’s the reason that books like The Borrowers are so well-loved.

Two things to remember:

Don't try to squeeze a sense of wonder into everything, or you overwhelm your reader. With every bit of wonder, there needs to be a bit of the familiar to ground your reader.

You can’t create wonder yourself. What you are really trying for is to get the reader to really stop and think about what is possible. To stop and look at something closely.

The wonder they’ll create themselves.

Releases from your main genre doesn't mean boring. Changing things up a bit and adding in another element will make it a more fulfilling story, especially when you put in some of each of the five elements kids crave.

So.... We're on the last of the five elements. But this isn't the end of talking MG writing! Next Monday, I'll post about the kinds of things that are most important to an MG protagonist.

Friday, June 14, 2013

Quotes and Cookies: Fat Books & Thin Books

"Inside every fat book is a thin book trying to get out."


I saw a thing on Facebook once that said, "I like fat books and I cannot lie" and I laughed and laughed because, come on-- that's funny.

But I cannot lie.

I do not like fat books.

Okay, that's a lie, too. I sometimes like fat books. But I have to REALLY be in the mood for it. And the writing has to be so very fan-freaking-tabulous that walking at a really slow pace is okay. Because it feels like stopping to smell the roses.*

But mostly, I want to feel the wind on my face (especially if the wind smells like roses, and I swear it can be both). Once upon a time, I used to look at a thin book and think it had less substance and depth. I've been reading books faster and more frequently than I ever have in my life, and through it I've come to realize something: if written well, a thin book does not lack substance and depth in the least. It just has incredible pacing.

And pacing means a lot to me.

It's what pulls me through a book. It's what makes me want to read just one more chapter even when it's late. An expertly-paced book is very important to me. And when I read a book that's not paced well, I just keep stopping on all the extra stuff in there. The stuff that doesn't add to the story, and makes me feel like I'm trudging uphill through cold tar, and now that I've seen that quote, I think "There's a thin book in here, trying to get out."

How about you? How high does a well-paced book rank for you?

While you're thinking about it, have a big fat cookie.

photo credit: GloriaGarcía via photopin cc

And remember that I love you the same, regardless of how fat you like your books. :)

*(And for the record, I have read fat books with incredible pacing, too-- I'm mostly talking about books that are fatter than they should be, you know? The ones where the author included ALL THE THINGS, but then never took out the extras that, in the end, just bog it down.)

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

My new favorite interview ever.

A year ago, I interviewed Elana Johnson here at the release of SURRENDER. Do you remember it? If not, here's a little reminder:

It might have been my favorite interview ever. Well, ABANDON just came out, and I had the privilege of interviewing Elana once again. This new interview just kicked it out of the top spot, and took its place as my new favorite. I had a blast! And yes, there's pictures, and this time, it's pictures of the tech in Elana's book. It's over at The League of Extraordinary Writers. Come hang out with me! We'll have fun. :D

Monday, June 10, 2013

Writing Middle Grade: It needs ACTION / ADVENTURE!

There are five things that a middle grade kid (and most of the rest of us, too!) really craves in a novel. Chances are, one of them is really prevalent in your novel. If you can find a way to get in some of all five, though, the book will be much more satisfying to your readers! I've already talked about HUMOR here and SCARINESS here and MYSTERY here. Today, it's my favorite. :D Action and adventure!

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When people think "action" or "adventure," chances are movies come to mind first. Of course you can’t compete with the movies; nor should that be your goal. What you should do is capitalize on the things that books can do that movies can’t--- show thoughts and emotions. Capitalizing on that in action scenes is one of the main reasons why you hear "The book was so much better than the movie."

Seriously, guys, books ftw. Even when you're talking (or ESPECIALLY when you're talking) about action and adventure.

When Writing Action Scenes:

To make it more exciting, add emotion. Readers want to know how it’s affecting the character.

To make it more interesting, have clever dilemmas. Or clever ways to get our characters high up in that metaphorical tree and then to throw rocks at them. Don’t go with what comes to mind first. Keep thinking and come up with dilemmas you haven’t heard a million times before.

To make the reader root for your character, show the character being clever. It can take a LOT of brainstorming to figure out how to get them down from that tree after you did such an amazing job of getting them up there. And let's face it: it’s really hard when you need your characters to be more clever than you are. What we have that our characters don’t, though, is time to think. Do it.

To make the reader care, show lots of character. Readers care much more for the action if they care for the characters. It’s a time to show their character in the way they respond to everything.

Don’t go too long without action. I’m not saying your characters have to run for their lives or jump off a cliff (although I am quite fond of characters jumping off a cliff ;)). Action can be things as simple as running to make the school bus. Exploring a hospital while trying not to get caught. Being caught in a rainstorm. Something that gets the characters excited and moving. Preferably fast.

And never use lots of description during action scenes. It will bog it down. Every time. If where they’re going to be needs lots of description, have it be before the action. In a previous scene, if possible. If the best way to lay out the scene is during the action, keep it very short and sparse. Think of what the characters would actually notice when they were in that situation. If they just broke into the bad guy’s lair, stole his freeze ray, set off the alarms in the process, and are racing out of the building while trying not to get caught, they aren’t going to notice that the paint on the walls is pale yellow, and cracked and peeling at places. Or that the light fixtures look like they belong in an old castle. Or that there’s a pomegranate scent drifting through the hallways. They might, however, notice that the floor stones are uneven, making it hard to run. Or that the lights are flickering, plunging them into moments of darkness.

But possibly the most important thing with action / adventure is to make sure your reader cares about your characters, otherwise they won’t care what happens when your characters get into trouble.

And on to the 5th element every book needs... A SENSE OF WONDER! 

Friday, June 7, 2013

Donation Bomb!

I'm sure most of you have, by now, heard of author David Farland's son's long board accident. If you haven't, I'll try to sum it up quickly. Almost two months ago, Ben crashed on his long board and sustained massive brain trauma. He's improving, but he's still in the hospital and will need huge amounts of help to re-learn everything. The hospital bills are expected to top $1.2 million, and as a writer, David Farland and his family don't have health insurance.

There have been many ways set up to help him over the past two months, and a huge group of people have organized a Donation Bomb Day today to help them with the medical bills. If you have been hearing about Ben's story and thinking about donating, today is the perfect day to do just that. Here's the link to make the donation. If everyone in the writing world donated just $5, think of the difference it would make!

And just because she's awesome like that, Leigh Covington is giving away a copy of Dave's book MILLION DOLLAR OUTLINES if you donate and / or help spread the word.

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And because it's Friday, let's have some cookies!

photo credit: comofaz via photopin cc

Monday, June 3, 2013

Writing Middle Grade: It needs MYSTERY!

Over the past two Mondays, I've talked about two of the five elements that if you include to some degree to your MG book (or any age group / genre!) it will make it more satisfying. If you missed them, I talked about HUMOR here and SCARINESS here.

Today, though, let's talk about MYSTERY!

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Some kids love mystery as a genre. But even when kids don’t choose to read mysteries, a mystery in a story– as simple as something the character wants to find out– can really keep a kid glued to a story.

Creating a mystery:

Build curiosity. Even if it’s something as simple as whether a character is a friend or foe. Or what that key they found goes to. Or what that one-eyed, four-legged creature who keeps poking it's head around the corner really wants.

Hint about things. Like a monster, a treasure, or what’s around the next corner.

Works well when there’s a threat to happiness. Because, come on. If the mystery is that the teacher has something in a brown lunch bag on her desk every eight days that she guards fiercely, what's the real motivation to figure out what's in it? Now if every day that the lunch bag appears, there's suddenly a pop-quiz, or the teacher doesn't come back from lunch but the mean substitute teacher does, or on those days hundreds of dragonflies swarm the school, then we care more about figuring out the mystery. (Okay, so maybe hundreds of dragonflies swarming the school would be cool, but you get my point, right?)

Don’t have it go on too long.  Have you seen the TV show Lost? For me, when I first started watching it, I was totally hooked by the mystery. Completely intrigued. But then they drug it on way too long without giving us answers, and I got frustrated and stopped watching. If you drag on a mystery for too long, the reader will feel played. Like you're just using a gimmick to get them to keep reading. At that point, it’s usually not worth it to them to play your game just to find out the answers, just like I stopped watching Lost. If you do have a mystery that has to go on for quite a while, give your reader breadcrumbs along the way. Give answers to little things, while still building the mystery for the big thing.


The bigger you build the mystery, the bigger the payoff has to be.

Too big of a buildup= unfulfilled plot promise.
Too big of payoff= it doesn't feel earned.

Keep them balanced.

Two more things to remember:

If you want to keep something a secret from the reader, then your point of view character can’t know it. If they do and the reader doesn’t, the reader will feel cheated. If it's absolutely imperative that your main character knows the secret but you don't want your reader to know, and there is no possible way around it, then don't have the character on the page when they should be thinking about it.

NEVER try to build a mystery by making things unclear. That’s confusion, not a mystery.

Next Monday, It's ACTION / ADVENTURE!