Realistic Romance

I wouldn’t consider myself a romance novelist, but when I began to work on my first young adult novel, I realized romance is important. I’ve made a point to study it. At the Oklahoma Retreat last fall (PS don’t forget to register for this fall), Sonia Gensler spoke about writing Romance and Friendship. Two pit falls she gave were insta-love and creepy love. Immediately I thought of Twilight for insta-love and 50 Shades of Grey for creepy love (every time I read Christian’s dialogue I heard Hannibal Lector and I could never finish the book). Those relationships didn’t cut it for me. I wanted to connect with something real. So I reflected on the best relationship I know, my own. I remember my first date with my husband. It wasn’t insta-love. I thought to myself this guy is sharp looking. He showed up in a Lincoln LS, dressed in boots, jeans, and a nice ironed shirt. He had no facial hair and the longest military cut he could get away with. I would later learn that he actually bought the car an hour earlier to impress me, and I accidently peeled off a little tint (I’d mistaken it for scotch tape), oops. For our first date, he took me to Barnes and Nobles and to a local spot that made great messy nachos (He knew they were a favorite). What more could a girl want? To top it off when we were dating the NY Giants won every playoff game and the Super Bowl. It was apparent I needed to marry this guy. Or at least that’s the story I tell. But honestly, it’s because we grew as people and continue to grow as people. It’s been messy at times and he challenges me to be my best. I love that I am here to help him build his dreams and he is here for mine. I move from state to state for him and he reads all my crappy rough drafts. Together we grow. Characters in general need to grow. Characters in romantic relationships need difficulties, growth, and change because that’s what makes them real. Quality book relationships are sloppy like my nachos and as readers we can’t help but devour them. I’ve found real romance in both John Greene’s An Abundance of Katherines and Rainbow Rowell’s Eleanor and Park. “Spoiler Alert” In An Abundance of Katherines, the main character, Colin is a child prodigy who recently went... read more

Unity and Tolerance Blossom through Unlikely Friendships

Our world is bubbling over with prejudice and skewed perceptions, pouring out through clashes between opposing groups on a daily basis.  Who hasn’t struggled with concepts of unity and tolerance?   So how can young children develop compassion, kindness and love for others who are different?  Check out a few picture books that explore new perspectives on friendship that chip away at misguided mindsets. Splat the Cat, by Rob Scotton (2008), chronicles Splat’s first day of school.  Tagging along in his lunch box is best friend, Seymour…..the mouse.  When the teacher proclaims, “Cats chase mice,” Splat is confused.  At lunch, Seymour tries to join the cat corp but is frightened when they chase him. Later, the cupboard door is stuck so there’s no milk for the felines.  Seymour crawls through the keyhole and opens the cupboard.  Cats’ mindsets switch from chasing to cheers. In John Himmelman’s, Katie Loves the Kittens (2008), Sara Ann brings home three new kittens to Katie, the dog.  Her howling and leaping scares them and she’s scolded.  Finding three bowls of food the next morning, Katie gobbles it up not understanding it for the kittens.   Once more she’s sent to her bed.   Feeling sad at her failure to show her love for them, Katie falls asleep.  That’s when the kittens curl up with Katie.  Restraining her desire to bark for joy, Katie quietly licks her tiny friends.  This new approach steals their hearts and a “Good girl” from Sara Ann. Nugget and Fang (Tammi Sauer, 2013) are ocean besties! They do everything together. Then Nugget goes to school and learns sharks are dangerous.  Yikes!  Fang is a shark.    Nugget chooses to hang with fish that look like him, ignoring Fang’s attempts to prove his loyalty.  Without warning, a giant net traps the school of fish.  Fang hears his BFF calling for help and comes to the rescue.  His heroics open the doors to the exclusive “little fish” club.  Finally, Fang becomes one of the in-crowd and reunites with Nugget. With buddy Splat sticking by his side, Seymour is able to sway the naysayers about the status of mice.  His willingness to help those who want to hurt him is a great reminder to be kind even when others are not.  Katie must learn that her perception of love looks different from the kittens’ perspective.  Adjusting her responses allow love to shine through in ways tiny kittens can understand.   Despite Nugget’s exclusion from the “little fish” club,... read more

The Power of Platonic…Heterosexual Friendships that Work in MG & YA

So, last year Ms. Rowling says perhaps she should have paired Harry Potter with Hermione Granger, and at first I found myself involuntarily nodding my head to her new tune. And then I stopped myself. “What, what, whaaa?” Sure, even the best authors will have second guesses about story arcs, character flaws, and the way we wrap up the whole enchilada at the very happy (or not so much) ending, but one thing I will never question the illustrious Rowling about is her ability to make one of my most favorite literary heterosexual friendships sing. And she’s not the only one who’s done it, although the offerings in heterosexual friendships are small and not always convincing. However, I managed to pick out a few of my favorites, in both middle grade and young adult offerings, that really pack a punch to the story, and in one case, almost steal the scene from the central romance (love that!). The Book Thief (Markus Zusack) – Despite the gravity of content in this novel, and the not altogether quite clear beginning (if you are just starting it, keep going, keep going!), this book develops characters in such a winsome and clever way that I found myself sucked in before I even knew The Book Thief was a vortex of intense, genre-straddling narrative. And no one could argue that had it not been for Max, the young Jewish man who so genuinely and innocently befriends Liesel, the book would not have triumphed the way it did in the end.  It is an unconventional friendship such as this that convinces the reader that not only can friendship leap the bounds of gender, but it can vault across racial and ethnic canyons in a way pure rhetoric never will. Wonder (R.J. Palacio) – I cannot say enough good things about this book. I CANNOT SAY ENOUGH GOOD THINGS ABOUT THIS BOOK (in case you missed that the first time). But beyond the myriad reasons any one of any age should read it, the purely platonic friendship that springs up between August and Summer (and yes, there is a clever discussion about their names!) made my heart sing with love for the people who think about being nice and act on it. Is there any attraction on August’s part to Summer? The author doesn’t even go there, and they are young anyway (5th grade). Besides, there’s so much to love about the way August and Summer... read more

Reverse Engineering of Setting

Reverse Engineering of Setting by Scott Mellgren “No matter what anybody tells you, words and ideas can change the world.” John Keating, Dead Poet’s Society. The world is our setting, change it to drive your story. Space is a void. Place is setting. Time can change everything. Think of a movie set. Places are usually occupied by characters, background and props. Things happen and events occur. All those things that make a narrative: action, dialogue, story etc. Getting specific about setting is what propels an author to use setting. Use it like a tool. Setting is as malleable as a main character and the story itself. Setting can drive decisions that authors must make. Setting can be reverse engineered. Here are two examples I’ll invent to demonstrate for you. The first is a small item, a gun. The second is a big item, the sun. Example 1: Let’s make a movie. It’s a night scene. Your main character is James Bond and he is being chased. He needs a gun… to take down the international thugs on his tail. How do you give him a gun? How does a gun become available in his surroundings, his place, his action, his needs, his conflict… all we need is a gun. We see him approach a highly secured building with armed guards. He has the opportunity to relieve a guard of his gun. Being the antihero that he is… Bond is gentle. He only slightly hurts the dude, knocking him out, stuffs him in a bush, hiding him behind a thick stone wall so he won’t get hurt in the cross fire. Bond now has a gun that we generated in his proximity, as part of his setting, with which to eliminate his pursuers. Roll reversal, the prey becomes the hunter, and our main character’s external conflict gets resolved. Setting made this all happen. I would consider everything I’ve described as the setting except our main character… Government-looking fortress, some armed guards, some international thugs, and the isolated guard who gets knocked out and his prop (which is sometimes called a firearm). Don’t forget about or overlook the first item in this example of setting… It’s a night scene. Bond has probably just had dinner with a lovely lady and he’s wearing a tuxedo. What is a tux? The tux is setting. The tux may also be called wardrobe, characterization, style… lots of good answers. Example 2: I want the people... read more