Halloween Hop into the Woods

spookywoods

 

It’s Halloween and what better day for an author to hop into the woods. It’s gray and cloudy. Stormy winds are stirring and getting ready for a howling good evening. But before I run off to greet the ghouls and goblins at my door, it’s time to join the author blog hop. 

 

I was invited to participate in the blog hop by my great friend and critique buddy Gayle Krause. Gayle is a prolific author with an entertaining blog of her own. Please hop back and visit her blog, The Story Teller’s Scroll, after you spend a short time with me. Now to answer those author questions:

  1. What are you currently working on?                                                                                                  At the moment I am working on a middle grade steampunk story. The idea came from a bit of back story in my short story My Dangerous Heart. One of the lead characters had an unusual occupation as a boy and I decided to explore that occupation with a new character in a novel.                                                                                                 
  2. How does it differ from other works in the genre?                                                                          Steampunk stories are generally geared for a YA audience, but the protagonist in my novel is a bit younger. At 14 he should appeal to middle grade readers, although his hard life has forced him to ‘grow up’ fast. 
  3. Why do you write what you do?                                                                                                          I’ve always been a prolific reader. I write the kind of stories that I love to read. Real life items get thrown into the pot to be simmered down with imagination and come out reinvented. I love fantasy and nature and finding the ‘magic’ in the most mundane things.                                                                                                                                     
  4. What is the hardest part about writing?                                                                                            For me the hardest part is to silence the perfectionist. I can get trapped refining and editing a scene and never move on to the next one. It’s great to have a perfect opening, but eventually you have to let go and write the rest of the story. 

Now that I have given you a peek at my creative process, let me introduce the two fellow authors who will be moving the author blog hop forward in November. 

The first one is Jennifer Carson. Jennifer was my editor for the steampunk anthology, Real Girls Don’t Rust. Jennifer is a dream editor, supportive and caring about her authors with a good ear for fine tuning a story. You can visit her at her blog: The Dragon Charmer. As well as being a great editor, she is an author of fantasy tales such as Hapenny Magick.  Jennifer Carson lives in New Hampshire with her husband, four sons and many furred and feathered friends. She grew up on a steady diet of Muppet movies and renaissance faires. Besides telling tales, Jennifer likes to create fantasy creatures and characters and publishes her own sewing patterns. She is also the head Mid-grade editor at Spencer Hill Press.

The second author I’d like you to meet is Rachel Schieffelbein. You can visit Rachel at her blog: Writing on the Wall. Rachel was one of my fellow authors from the anthology, Real Girls Don’t Rust. In her tale, Seeing Red, she turned the story of Little Red Riding Hood on its head.
Rachel Schieffelbein lives with her husband and their four kids in the same tiny town she grew up in. She spends her time reading, writing, and coaching high school speech and theater. She enjoys writing characters she can relate to, ones she would want to hang out with, or fall in love with. She hopes her readers will love them, too. Her debut novella,Secondary Characters, came out last spring from Swoon Romance.

Now I think I hear the first goblins scratching at my door, so I will have to leave you. Make sure you hop forward to visit Jennifer and Rachel and back to see Gayle and all the other authors before her. That’s what blog hopscotch is all about, meeting new and exciting authors. Enjoy!

Posted in Editor's Thoughts | 3 Comments

Reinventing Fairy Tales

Author Gayle C Krause

Author Gayle C Krause

I’d like to welcome Gayle C. Krause author of Ratgirl, Song of the Viper as a guest to my blog. Gail’s story is based on the classic tale The Pied Piper of Hamelin and we’re going to discuss ‘reinventing’ a fairytale.

Thanks for having me as a guest on your blog, Roxanne. Fairy tales are one of my passions and I’m happy to discuss them with your readers today.

Fairy tales are once again leaving the nursery and reaching an older audience. Plots that emphasize the darker aspects of the stories are becoming popular in movies, Hansel and Gretel, Witch Hunters for example. Gayle, when approaching a classic tale and reinventing it for a modern audience what do you look for?

For me, personally, I am drawn to the darker organic fairy tales. By this, I mean the story has sinister, intriguing aspects to it, which can be exploited to write a gritty, heroic rendition.

I think there’s more room to elaborate on the less obvious aspects of the fairy tale, and weave a story today’s teen would be interested in.

What drew you to the Pied Piper story?

The darkness, the rats, and the oppression the villagers suffered at the hands of the corrupt mayor and his corporation, and a strong female character to battle them.

Fairytales have obviously stood the test of time. Like myths, they are passed down from generation to generation. What do you feel allows a fairy tale to appeal to audiences over such a long span of time?

For a story to hold a child’s attention it must be entertaining, and arouse curiosity, but most of all it must stimulate the imagination. Actually, that’s the exact same criteria needed to make a YA novel successful.

Fairy tales were originally told around the hearth at the end of a long day. However, the stories weren’t the tales of magic and mayhem we know today. They were actually gossip of the town or village, told to teach a child lessons on the meaning of life. A brother and sister abandoned in the woods by a father. A young girl tricked by a man, who tries to lure her into a sexual relationship. A loving daughter turned into the servant of her own home, by a jealous stepmother. What better fantasy than to embellish the true facts of life?

Today, fairy tales are still told as a way for children to distinguish between fantasy and reality. By dealing with the universal problems a child must face, fairy tales encourage psychological development and emotions, that hopefully lead to wise decisions on the child’s part.

How close do you think a reinvented fairytale should remain to the original?

There are two points of view on this question, and perhaps the definitions lie in how we describe the story.

One is a retelling. In this version of the fairy tale the plotline is closely followed. It may be expanded into a YA or MG novel and include new information, but essentially it remains the same story as the original.

The other is an adaptation, where the text is given modern tools and expressions and the story is loosely based on the original. Stories with strong female characters, or weak female characters, who can be re-invented as strong, to take charge of their lives, makes manipulating the traditional tales fun and a great creative outlet for the author or screenwriter. Thus, the current influx of reinvented fairy tales for the big screen.

Do you have a favorite retold fairytale?

Yes. My favorite fairy tale as a child was The Twelve Dancing Princesses. Juliet Marillier’s first YA novel, Wildwood Dancing, incorporates the story of The Frog Prince and The Twelve Dancing Princesses with the realm of Otherworld creatures.

And they all lived happily ever after . . . fairytale twists often pick up the original story after the closing scene and question how true ‘happily ever after’ is. Does Ratgirl take us further than the original story?

Ratgirl sets the stage for ‘happily ever after,’ but to actually see the result, I’d have to write the sequel. The story ends with the characters and setting in place, but the time has not yet arrived to see if they in fact do live ‘happily ever after.’

If the idea for a sequel that’s floating around in my head comes to fruition, I’m thinking it won’t be all that happy unless Jax or Andy Stone take a stance against the evil that will follow them to the New Continent.

RatGirlFinalMed

Ratgirl is available as a paperback or Kindle edition. Click on the cover to view it at Amazon.com.

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Extra! Extra! Read all about it. Story Pie Press delivers Good News just in time for the holidays.

Good News Nelson
Written by: Jodi Moore
Illustrated by: Brendan Flannelly-King
Published by: Story Pie Press, December 4, 2012
ISBN: 978-0-9842178-3-0
Price: $14.99
Ages: 4-9
Rating: 5 stars
Reviewed by: Roxanne Werner
Synopsis: Paperboy Nelson only delivers the news to his neighbors; good or bad, it is not his to control. But cranky old Mrs. Snodberry’s reaction to a story about abandoned cats makes Nelson wonder if he can do something.

Good News Nelson combines the talents of Jodi Moore, author of When A Dragon Moves In, and illustrator Brendan Flannelly-King. Together they create an uplifting story without any sugary after taste.
Packaged in an oversized hardcover edition, the jacket design echoes the newspaper theme. The black and white back cover sports a bold headline and story column layout. Inside Flannelly-King’s illustrations provide a muted backdrop for the developing story.
Paperboy Nelson finds it is not enough to deliver or read the news. It is not even enough to care. Bad news doesn’t turn into good news without people taking action.

Crotchety Mrs. Snodberry’s pessimism is the perfect foil to Nelson’s youthful enthusiasm. With a tip of the hat to Dicken’s Scrooge, her “bahs” are the spur to Nelson taking action.
But what can one person do–especially one small boy?

Young readers will find Nelson’s story both inspiring and empowering. The plan he devises to help save one hundred abandoned kittens is practical. He comes up with an idea and carries it out by himself. Although adults become involved, Nelson is the pebble that starts an avalanche of goodwill.
Readers will root for one small boy who refuses to give up and let bad news rule the day.

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Kreativ Blogger Award

To my surprise fellow author, blogger and wonderful critique partner Gayle C Krause has honored my humble blog with the Kreativ Blogger Award.

I’d like to thank Gayle for following my blog and passing the word along to others. Gayle is an accomplished writer and author of the rhyming picture book Rock Star Santa available from Scholastic. You can visit her blog at The Storytellers Scroll where you will find lively discussions on writing, contests and much more.

Now according to the rules I must share seven unknown facts about myself.

  1. As a child if I didn’t have a book, I paged through the encyclopedia hunting for Greek or Norse myths to read.
  2. I’m an avid Tolkien fan and learned to read and write in ‘Elf.’ In high school I took all of my history notes in elf script.
  3. I have a Bachelor of Science degree in botany and horticulture.
  4. I collect kaleidoscopes. It’s fun to view the world through a different perspective.
  5. I enjoy kayaking.
  6. I once had a plant for a pet.
  7. I might be able to survive without chocolate but I couldn’t live without tomatoes.

And enough about me. I’d like to send you off to visit some other great writing blogs.

Friend and fellow writer Kimberly Sabatini’s blog Kim’s book Touching the Surface will be out October 2012. I had the privilege of reading the first rough draft and loved it even then.

The Book Shelf Muse home of the awesome emotional thesaurus.

 

Posted in Editor's Thoughts | 1 Comment

Do Your Characters Suffer from Mid-plot Crisis?

How often have we heard of middle-aged people suddenly feeling lost. They leave their families and friends, jobs and homes to go off and ‘find themselves.’ They’re tired of being defined by their roles (wife, mother, husband, father) or being typecast by their occupations. What does this have to do with writing? Your characters may have the same issues.

All too often, an editor will find a story peopled not by characters but by roles. Instead of well-rounded individual characters, the author inserts stereotypes for the sake of the plot. This can happen for a variety of reasons.

If a writer  creates a story as a ‘lesson,’ it’s easy to fall into the trap of using ‘stock’ characters– insert annoying younger sister here, new kid at school there. But a ‘lesson’ should never control a story. A plot should evolve organically from a strong main character. A character who is an individual, not a ‘role’, will have flaws and weaknesses that will create a problem. He will also have strengths that allow him to grow and overcome the obstacles. Evil stepmothers and plucky orphans may fill fables and fairytales, but they do not engage today’s reader. Even young children are looking for three-dimensional characters with interesting personalities.

The restraints of picture books and magazine stories can also tempt a writer to fall back on a ‘role’ instead of a character. Writers may feel trapped by the limited word count. How can they develop a character when they only have a few pages and a bare minimum of words to work with? Yet editors tell us that they are looking for strong, quirky characters in picture books; characters that leap off the page and into a reader’s heart.

Secondary characters are another area where a writer can become lazy and take a ‘role’ off the shelf. Secondary characters shouldn’t upstage the main character, but they still need to be well- rounded individuals. Think of your favorite movies and all of the great character actors who won Oscars for supporting roles. Your supporting cast should be just as strong.

So read over your work in progress. Stop and get to know your characters. Make sure they are characters and not prepackaged ‘roles.’ Is that younger sister a person or just defined by her sibling relationship? Is the young princess real when she takes off her crown? Talk to each one of your characters. Let them break away from their ‘role’ or occupation. Make sure you let each one ‘find himself.’ Your story will benefit if they do. Nothing adds zest to a plot like a lively set of ‘characters’ with character.

 

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Invitation to Read

I spent last week judging a first sentence contest on my friend’s blog, The Story Teller’s Scroll. There were many interesting entries. I was curious about what followed some of those first lines. It made me realize how obsessed writers have become about ‘hooking’ an editor’s attention.

At writer’s conferences, we used to discuss how important the first chapter was. We outlined what we had to accomplish within those first precious pages. Just when we thought we had it down, we heard about ‘first pages.’

Yes, it was no longer the first chapter. The slush pile was sky high and editors had to be engaged by the end of the first page. Start with action. Don’t have any backstory. Start at a decisive moment. We rewrote first pages to perfection only to find by the time we had finished, the window of opportunity had shrunk even more—to the first paragraph and then to the first sentence.

Auditions have been trimmed from a chapter to a line. What pressure we now put on that first poor sentence. It has to convey your voice, the mood of the story, your character’s voice, something exciting or interesting, a hook, foreshadowing, anything and everything. As obedient writers, we try to cram it all in.

In some of the entries I judged, sentences staggered under the burden placed upon them. Clauses were tacked at the beginnings and endings. Commas ruled the day. Sentences strained to the breaking point, as they tried to accommodate a paragraph’s worth of information. Many were perfectly good sentences when they started out. I trimmed them and removed the cluttering clauses. Underneath I found strong, solid sentences that invited me to read on. ‘Read on,’ they said. ‘There are other sentences to follow.’

Other openings dumped me right in the middle of the story. I had no bearings. I felt as if I had been thrown in a pool and told to sink or swim. Did I find that interesting? I’d like to say I did, but actually, it had the opposite effect. I wanted to pull back and orient myself, instead of plunging ahead.

So what is a writer to do? I opened two of my favorite books tonight and read the first sentences.

‘In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit.’ – The Hobbit, J.R.R. Tolkien

‘There was no possibility of taking a walk that day.’ —Jane Eyre, Charlotte Bronte

The sentences seem plain, unassuming. They don’t leap off the page and grab you by the throat. But they do invite you to read on. Curl up with these comfortable words. There is more to come.

Perhaps that is what we writers need to remember. Our first sentence shouldn’t be a blaring TV commercial or a high-pressure salesman. Our first sentence is an invitation. Come in dear reader; spend time in my world.

 

Posted in Editor's Thoughts | 3 Comments

Editor Blues: The Cover Letter

I am looking at the writing world from the other side of the desk this year. Having recently joined the staff of Stories for Children Magazine, I thought I would share a few posts from the editor’s point of view. Today’s topic is the cover letter.xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

The cover letter seems to be a lost art in the world of electronic submissions. Some writers evidently cannot take the time in today’s fast-paced world of ‘click and send’ to write one. I am sure they feel that their work will ‘speak’ for itself. What is the point of taking the time to write a cover letter for an email submission?xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

Maybe I am old fashioned, but when I open a submission and read –‘Attached a story.’ —I am not thrilled. Think of it this way. If you met an editor at a conference, would you say ‘here’ and shove your manuscript into their hand? I doubt any of us would be so forward or rude. Yet the impersonal world of electronic submissions encourages us to do just that.xx

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The cover letter is your introduction. Do your best to make a good first impression. If you have never submitted to a particular editor, keep it formal and business like. Do use an editor’s name. Did you ever have a teacher in school that gave you ten points for just putting your name on a test paper? I will give you ten points for addressing your submission to me and getting my name right. Why? It is not because I have an inflated ego. It is because it tells me you took the time to do your homework. You looked at our website and consciously chose to submit a story to me.x

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The cover letter is my first look at your writing ability. If you leave out or misspell words, it does not give me a good feeling about reading your manuscript. But, you will say, I worked very hard on the manuscript. I proof read it ten times and went over it with my critique group for months before sending it out. And I will ask, if you spent that much time working on your story, why not spend fifteen minutes to write and proof read your cover letter? You invest so much effort in your story and then wrap it in garbage to send out.xxx

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A good cover letter accomplishes two things. It introduces you and your story to editors and it gives them their first look at your writing skills. If you take the time to write a decent one, it tells editors that you are serious about your work. It makes them want to spend their time reading your story and working with you on it.

Posted in Editor's Thoughts | 3 Comments