Don’t Forget These Favorite Children Winter Reads (and they make good gifts too!)

Whenever the Christmas season rolls around, I think I’m still a big kid. I can’t help myself! This is the time of year when I get to remember special moments with my family growing up, and relive them and expand on them with my own family. In that vein, it wouldn’t be Christmas without classic Christmas stories. Sure, people may make fun of me for picking Elf and Home Alone as my favorite Christmas movies (supposedly, classy people pick It’s a Wonderful Life). However, when it comes to children and teen books, I love stories that make me smile…and make me cry. Here’s a list to get you started. Classic Christmas for the kids. On my latest Black Friday “Get your signed copy” run at Barnes and Noble, I discovered that Polar Express was available signed by Chris Van Allsburg. My kids love the magical story, but it is in tight competition with Dr. Seuss’s How the Grinch Stole Christmas. Don’t miss either, because both of these have stood the test of time! Taste of the fantastic. This is a season of imagination, and nothing is more imaginative than a fantasy world covered in snow. For a littler shiver of winter, read the children’s classics The Lion, Witch, and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis or The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman. For heavier snow…This is a season to remember our blessings. Nothing brings that home better than listening to tales that remind us what we have to be thankful for…and what joy and peace really mean. Two artfully written tales from World War II with Christmas seasons in them (and a wintery feel) are the award-winning The Book Thief by Markus Zusak and Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys. For the Christmas romantic. Brand new to the market, What Light by Jay Asher (Thirteen Reasons Why) is getting great reviews for being a romantic Christmas teen read. Also, for a teen read with a beautifully written Christmas season, those who can stand a little more solid fare might try Rainbow Rowell’s Eleanor & Park. Have a happy holidays, and merry... read more

What’s Write About 4 Conferences in a Year

My 2016 has been filled with conferences. As some may know my husband is military. The last few years especially have been filled with detachments. Being away from family made conferences difficult, not impossible (I managed to get one in a year with the help of my traveling mother in law). This year I had my husband around more and I had opportunity. So, I ventured out to conferences as much as possible. Even made one to see old friends that I left behind on our most recent move. Unintentionally, I ended up signing myself up for four SCBWI conferences/workshops. So what is right about doing this? Everything! Inspiration. At the first conference one of the guest speakers inspired the kick in the pants I needed to start the book. It was the adventure and voices I had in my head, but didn’t know how to categorize and I was afraid to actually write it. That hadn’t happened to me before. With my most recent book finished and off to query there was no more stalling. Write it or find another. I started researching the one I was afraid to write. Support. The next conference got the ball rolling so that I might have something to talk about at it. I needed to share my story with all my friends. They hadn’t seen me in a while so I needed to assure them I was still writing and explain it in such a way I didn’t sound crazy.  I explored my idea. Deadlines and networking. The third was a summer workshop in which I needed a completed novel. That meant waking up before the kiddos and insuring I wrote every day to get it done before summer. I signed up so there was no backing out. It didn’t matter I was nervous to write it and then read out parts of it in front of strangers.  Although scary and not necessarily the awed reaction every writer dreams of—I didn’t explode. Therefore, I was able to utilize the new tools I had learned to get my work into shape. Maybe someday in the future I could impress someone with this story.  I also met a lot of other serious writers in my new state of residence. Even if the work wasn’t where it should be they encouraged the idea. Now to rewrite it, correctly. Finished Books. This was the third novel that I’d written and the fastest. I signed up... read more

Hooked! Intrigue in The Night Gardener

As a writer, it’s very difficult for me to simply read a book. I find that other part of my brain taking over–the one that wants to analyze and dissect why something does or doesn’t work in a book. In the case of The Night Gardener by Jonathan Auxier, I found that the story soon had me reeled in and obsessively turning pages. Luckily for me, that other section of my brain didn’t have to work too hard to figure out what it was that sucked me in. As I mentioned in WWAT’s group post last week: “What Hooked Me in The Night Gardener,” It was the intrigue. Before reading The Night Gardener I’d really been thinking quite a bit about backstory and flashbacks, so I was already dialed into paying attention to how authors provided necessary details while avoiding the dreaded info dumps. Arguments against a spray of words revealing a character’s backstory are plentiful. But for me, the reasons crystalize in the following statement: Info-dumping robs your reader and just importantly you, of the opportunity to hook your reader slowly. Instead of the wall of text that comes with revealing information all at once, if a writer scatters those snippets like breadcrumbs, a reader will eagerly follow. Now, there is a balance of how much is enough, and that leads me to my next theory: Don’t give a reader what she needs, and she will stop reading. Don’t give a reader what she wants, and she’ll read until she gets it. The trick is to discern the difference between what the reader needs and what the reader wants. In The Night Gardener, Auxier hits just the right balance and knows the difference between the two. Caution: Spoilers ahead… As I mentioned above, it didn’t take long for Auxier to set the first hook. We open with two young siblings on their way to work for an odd, but wealthy family. The first piece of intrigue is where are their parents? Auxier doesn’t reveal this, and it becomes a central piece of the story. Soon they meet an old lady, as mysterious as the woods they’re traveling through, who warns them about their destination–a supposedly haunted house. From there, the intrigue keeps mounting: The tree they find growing near and through the house The mother and her comments The father and why he hasn’t been around What happened to the father’s parents The mysterious door and the room it protects The figure that comes at night The footprints that seemingly vanish The hole and its malicious contents The father and... read more

What Hooked Me in The Night Gardener…

This week we’re examining What’s Write About The Night Gardener, a middle-grade novel by Jonathan Auxier. Today’s topic examines what kept us reading the book. John: Intrigue– I’m going to save much of what I have to say for next week’s blog, but what reeled me in was the intrigue. So many bread crumbs were left behind that made me want to keep reading, and when one question would be answered, another would be put forth. This served to keep me turning pages as I would imagine it did for everyone. It really was a writing lesson in how to string a series of plot points together to form a wonderful path–all the way to the conclusion. Linda: Spooky– I love all things spooky, and the Night Gardener didn’t let me down. The moment that really caught my attention was when Molly sees the family portrait for the first time. The difference between the gaunt, pale, drab mother and the image of a healthy happy woman in the painting made my mind jump into a million directions. My first thought was that they were all ghosts. I almost begged Molly and Kip to leave. The spooks only grew from there – the tree, the thugs, the night man. Jonathan Auxier never let me down. If you love a good, creepy story with plenty of twists and turns, then the Night Gardener is for you! Jess: Lore– The promise of new lore, hooked me into reading and finishing The Night Gardener. I grew up in CT, not far from New York. As a New Englander, I was of course a huge fan of Edgar Allen Poe and I was just a couple hours ride from the Hudson River Valley. I later lived in Westchester County, NY and became even more familiar with George Washington Irving’s The Legend of Sleepy Hollow (Maybe you remember an earlier post when I visited the author’s house). Both of these authors’s work were considered comparisons or inspirations for Jonathan Auxier’s book. Not only that, but the tone and stage setting is much like the tales of the immigrants, Native Americans, and those created by New Englanders themselves that I grew up listening to. There is the Night Gardener, a legendary character like the headless horsemen. Then there is the storytelling theme throughout.  Plus, there’s that creepy tree that could be in your woods (maybe inspired by Tuck Everlasting springs). This novel does not disappoint. Megan: Historical... read more

NANO Write Month Survival Tips

As we approach the twitter season of hashtag: NaNoWrMo, the WWAT crew wishes our fellow writers success. Not only do we want you to get that crazy hashtag right every time, but also achieve those word counts you strive for each day (totaling 50,000 words in 30 days). The idea of writing a novel in the month of November can be daunting. Not only can doubt set in, but as the holidays approach one can get easily overwhelmed. That’s when writer’s block strikes. That pesky state of mind that gets in the way. Don’t give up. Writer’s block can be defeated by continuing to write through the blankness and utilizing the rules of the craft. Every craftsman has his/her tools that they rely on. We are sharing ours in the hopes that they may help you.   Jess – I’ve attempted NaNoWriMo before and have reached my goals. Granted the 50,000 words at the time didn’t seem achievable. I had other obligations, but wanted to utilize peer pressure to get some writing done. So I set my goal to 30,000 words. I reached it and did better than I thought. It set me up so now whenever I need to write a book I have a game plan and have reached the 50,000 word goal in other months with other stories. The best advice I utilized was to not write until I was out of ideas. To always leave the last thought for the next day. That way everyday I had a starting point and wasn’t staring at a blank screen. I’d just get in the seat when I could and start typing. That momentum kept me going and the ideas flowing so I could reach appropriate word goals daily. John – Welp, this advice will be self-admittedly worthless. Because the advice is…plan ahead! NaNoWriMo is not a month of writing. It’s 31 days of writing. It’s 744 hours of writing. It’s 44,640 minutes of writing. It’s–well, no point in counting the seconds. The point is if your goal is words, which NaNoWriMo is based on, then you need to make a plan for how much time you’re going to allocate to get the words you need. How are you going to get that time in? What events are you going to cancel in order to make sure that you have enough BICFOK (Butt in Chair. Fingers on Keys)? Set a daily goal. Plan to skip Saturdays or Sundays?... read more