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Ogres and Turkeys Just in Time for Thanksgiving!

  What do ogres and turkeys have in common? In the land of Ogregon, they’re both ginormous next to your smaller-than-usual hero. Milo Speck: Accidental Agent, by Linda Urban, weaves together a unique tale of socks and turkey feathers with a boy who wants to make his father proud. While I was reading this novel, I was reminded of some of my favorite books and movies when I was younger. So rather than give accolades about the writing or the setting or the characters (all of which are excellent), I want to motivate you to read Milo Speck based on these other works of fiction you might have already enjoyed. Linda Urban encourages readers in her endnotes to read some of Dahl’s books and says the BFG inspired her novel. Giants… ogres… see the connection? Another Dahl book I was reminded of was Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator. If you haven’t read this one, it continues the story of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, only this time they go into space! Now, I don’t want to give too much away, but Linda Urban uses a very unique mode of transportation to get Milo from the “real” world and into Ogregon. HINT: It has to do with laundry. And where do the turkeys come in? First place you’ll see one is on the back of the book jacket. And I will tell you there is a scene very reminiscent of this one from The Swiss Family Robinson. Haven’t you always wanted to ride an ostrich? What about a giant turkey who can do the chicken dance?   Before I give anything else away… And, yes! There are spies with strange technology! So I hope I have made you curious enough to rush out and buy Milo Speck: Accidental Agent. It’s a great read for all ages, and especially fun for reluctant readers. If they resist, just show them the pics on this awesome blog post.... read more

My Favorite Scary Books I Read as a Kid

Fear is sometimes best confronted through someone else’s story. When I was growing up, I loved the following books. I had my own copies and read them over and over, wondering what I’d do if I was in the story. The writing and tension building is excellent in each and they probably became my favorites because they didn’t leave me in a state of fear. I managed to still turn the lights off when it was time for bed. The Witches – Roald Dahl I was sure this was the best self-help book I would ever read. Dahl told me everything I needed to know about how to identify a witch. Any lady I saw wearing gloves, itching her head, with extra large nostrils, crazy color-changing eyes, and limping with toe-less feet had to be a witch. Thankfully, I never met anyone that exactly fit this description. My mother did get a toe removed once, though. It did make me wonder. What I appreciate about this book as an adult is that Dahl used exaggerations to make what would normally be a scary topic for kids more light-hearted. Sort of. Bruno, the main character, was a boy during most of the story and then… Well, you should just read the book.     The Green Futures of Tycho – William Sleator Even scarier than recognizing a witch was the horrible creature all kids have to face sometime—their grown-up selves. Sleator’s story begins with 11-year-old Tycho experiencing the fun adventures of time travel and changing small things in the past to make his life with his siblings easier. But when he goes to a future where his adult-self is poor and miserable, he has to change the present to affect the future. Each change though, makes the adult Tycho even worse, to the point where young Tycho has to defeat himself before his whole family and possibly the world is destroyed. So scary! This was one of those books that made me fear growing up. Who would I become and what would I do? At the time, it seemed much better just to stay a kid.     The Monster at the End of this Book – Jon Stone & Michael Smollin The best all-time scary book is told by lovable-old Grover. I was maybe six-years-old when I first read this story. Grover kept telling me not to turn the page. Of course, I had to do it despite his... read more

If you liked A Wrinkle in Time, then you’ll like The Apothecary

These two books definitely go in my favorite collection. Great characters, extraordinary adventures, and strong relationships make them both must-reads for children and adults. What the books have in common: Strong underdog protagonists – both are girls a bit out of sorts in their everyday lives. L’Engle’s Meg is a plain teen who feels like a failure at high school and in her family. Meloy’s Janie is an American moving to London, who would rather be a 1950s movie star. Good friends – In A Wrinkle in Time, Meg’s high school friend Calvin O’Keefe helps calm Meg’s frustrations, while the mystery surrounding Benjamin Burrows leads Janie into adventure in The Apothecary. People with unique abilities – Meg’s 5-year-old brother understands things beyond everyday human experience and Janie’s encounters with the mysterious apothecary reveal his concoctions go beyond the realm of medicinal remedies. How the books differ: The uniqueness of Meloy – When I first started reading The Apothecary, I thought I was reading a historical fiction novel, but after a few chapters I knew things would get exciting. Set in 1952, Meloy uses post-World War II and the golden age of movie making as the backdrop for a teenage girl’s extraordinary adventures that defy the laws of physics. The genre bending of L’Engle – In 1962, L’Engle combined current trends in scientific thought with supernatural space travel and threw in a bit of religious philosophy to top it off. Many critics thought it was too advanced and radical for young readers, but generations of children still read this book and many adults still remember it as one of their favorites. I reread it again recently and loved how it still stretches my... read more

Let Your Characters Choose Your Point of View

So, you’ve got this idea for the next best-seller in children’s books. You take the time to plot out the story line, develop your characters, and do some background research for your setting. Then you sit down and write, but what appears on the page is not what you expect. This happened to me when writing my most recent novel. I love telling stories from my characters’ point of views, so I had always written in first person. I also enjoy the immediacy of present tense. So all my books up to this point had the main character as the narrator, giving the reader a play-by-play of what was happening. But there was only one problem with my new novel—my audience would be preteen Americans and my main character is a European boy who struggles with English. See my dilemma? How could I make my intelligent European character appear smart if he had a limited vocabulary? He also has a thick accent, so it would be a challenge to constantly write his mispronunciations. I could’ve changed him into a slick, foreigner with a sharp tongue, but he would no longer be the same character and I didn’t want to lose him. So I flipped into third person past tense for the first time. It was hard at first and my writing was a little clunky, but now the reader can understand why my main character is the way he is. Then I faced another surprise—another character demanded more attention. I would’ve been very limited using first person, but now with third, this secondary character gets chapters all to herself and her perspective is the perfect contrast to my main character. So don’t limit yourself to one point of view until you know your characters. Try writing one chapter multiple times each in a different point of view. I’ve not delved into second person, but there are a number of authors, especially for middle grade, that do this now. Explore your novel through the eyes of your characters and let them have the voice that is perfect for your story. (And when in doubt, let your excellent critique group give you their... read more

One Writer’s Journey in Building a World

World building in writing encompasses all the nuances of the environment and culture in a novel. It can be as basic as the most familiar things in our lives or as exotic as an alien race on another planet. Science fiction and fantasy stories need an extra punch of world building—they have to combine the familiar with the unfamiliar and keep everything consistent. While I was writing my first novel, I knew nothing about the need to world build until I got halfway through my story, but I learned from my mistakes and now use some tools to help me. My most important tool is creating multiple timelines before I ever start a story. One timeline is about the actual story progression, but I also create a timeline for the main character and each of the primary secondary characters. These timelines include important events and the impact they have on each character. If I am writing about a world very different from my present reality in the United States, I make a timeline for historical events—the composition of the government, the important people of the time/place, and other significant cultural developments. In my first novel, I hadn’t created timelines first, so my story was very convoluted. I spent days of rewriting, making a change in later chapters that changed many elements in the early ones. I soon lost track of all the changes and felt as lost as my characters became. Eventually, my desire for organization kicked in. That’s when I started creating timelines and sticking to them. My second tool is just to write. This is because until I experience the world of my novel, I don’t really feel connected with it. So I write through the perspective of my main character(s) a first draft of the storyafter I have fully developed timelines. When I start writing, some of the events/reactions change, but since I know the ultimate end of the novel, the changes are usually minor and add to the overall storyline. The hardest tool for me to implement is what I call the waiting game. After two years of writing and rewriting my first story with multiple storylines and endings, I finally moved on to something else. Most writers stress the need to finish a book and then let it sit while you move on to something else. I didn’t heed this advice until my second novel. I let it sit for about half a year... read more

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