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The Ancient Kiss

Okay so my two words in our short story exercise were ancient and (yuck, ptooie…ahem—sorry) kiss. Here goes: I was pretty much the only one in the hall on the last day of school—the last day of fifth grade. Next year, we would be in middle school. The big kids.  And I would be one of them. I pulled the magnet that said Property of Mason Jones from the top of the locker. Next year, for the first time in forever, this locker would belong to someone else. Now, I’m not a real emotional person. Take those movies…where somebody’s dog died and everybody cried. I didn’t cry. Wasn’t my dog. But here I was getting a little sniffly as I dug through my locker tossing stuff into my dad’s army duffle bag brought just for the occasion. Yeah, it would take more than just a year’s worth of stuff to get to me. And more than just my last day at Gomer Jones Elementary at that. But this was something more. My locker was in the corner of the blue hallway, and with my dad’s cousin’s best friend being the janitor, he not only kept it off limits to everyone else, meaning I’d had it since first grade. But more than that, he let me keep my stuff in it all year. I’d never cleaned it out. While next year’s locker would have a real lock, with a real combination, this wasn’t easy sticking memories from my whole life into a canvas duffle bag. I heard her before I saw her. “I’ve changed my mind,” she said. “I’m not taking your name when we get married.” I only thought I was alone. Kinzie Papadopoulos leaned her bony shoulder against the locker next to mine and stared through her thick-rimmed glasses.  “You’re slow. You know that right? You may as well be a no-legged Testudinata. Know what that is?” I sighed. “Kinzie is to annoying as water is to wet.” “Cute. But no. What you just said was an analogy. What I used was a metaphor, and that’s not even what I was talking about.” I tossed a pack of papers and notebooks from this year in my bag. “What’s a metaphor?” “For making you look dumb, Testudinata. Now when are you going to ask me out? Moving on from Gomer Jones, I can’t promise I’m going to wait on you forever.” I shook my head and pitched a crumpled... read more

Fuzzy Mud, Mysterious Messages, and The Blackthorn Key

My summer of reading was an odd assortment. I started with Louis Sachar’s Fuzzy Mud. Not a bad read at all. A story of a bully, the bullied, and a girl in the middle all wrapped up in a scientific mystery of what’s really out there in the woods. I thought the suspense was great. While not as magical as Holes (what is?), the story was great for writers wanting to see how to build character and suspense. Next on my list was a non-fiction title, Mysterious Messages. Both kids and adults will love this book and its magnificent illustrations. From coding systems to coding machines, this book offers a concise and fascinating look into the complex world of espionage and how codes and cyphers have been used throughout the ages. My final book was an MG historical The Blackthorn Key. This book was awesome. Wonderfully steeped in 1600s England, this book is full of intrigue, suspense, and science. Like many other readers, I enjoyed the puzzles the character must solve to unravel the final mystery. One thing I noted was the humor–or lack there of. The tone isn’t whimsical or silly like many MG books. This book carries a strong story, with young but mature characters dealing with issues that most MG readers can identify with (family and belonging). I even wonder if this could be a sign of things to come with more true upper-middle-grade books. Regardless, I highly recommend it. While there were other books, I reported on these as they were “purpose” reads–all selected because of a writing project I’m working on, mentor texts so to speak. Hopefully, with more hard work and editing, the project I’m working on will make its way to print. If so, the books above will have been more than just amazing... read more

Finding Your Wings with Humor

Douglas Adams, author of the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy series, had this to say about flying: The knack of flying is learning how to throw yourself at the ground and miss. What does this have to do with writing humor? This: Trying to be funny is a lot like trying to fly. When you decide to tackle being funny, you take a chance, you throw yourself out there—you open yourself up in a way that most other writing doesn’t. You’re targeting a specific response and hoping for the desired reply. You’re taking a leap and if you’re lucky, you come just close enough to the ground to keep from splatting. In short, writing humor is frightening. Rather than leaving the writer flailing about, I thought I’d try to point out three classifications of humor that seem to work well for me. (These are arbitrarily named by the way.) Observational Humor (OH) is first. OH is usually based on how someone sees something. It can be attributed to a character or narrator’s unique or even quirky way of looking at things that makes the reader giggle for any number of reasons. Maybe the reader had never looked a situation the same way as the character/narrator or maybe it’s so absurd it catches the reader off guard. Regardless, this type of humor really helps the reader connect with a character. A good example of this can be found in the character of Charlie Valentine in the YA book, Bone Gap. “I’m not either,” said Charlie. “I was on my way to a date.” “Sorry,” said Finn, not sorry. “Eh, no need. She’s already mad at me anyway. Women are always mad about something. Did I ever tell you about the time I was traveling alone across this beautiful country of ours and met a beautiful woman with flaming hair? Her name was Esmeralda. Empira. Empusa. Something with an E. I thought we’d had a fine time of it, the two of us, until I woke up and found her trying to gnaw off my arm. Had teeth as sharp as a shark’s, that one.” In this brief snippet, the reader gets that Charlie has an odd way of looking at life, and whether you agree with him or not, his views help us better understand both the world of the book and the other characters in their reaction to him. Situational humor (SH) is (duh) humor based on a situation.... read more

Don’t Wait to be Inspired

Ideas are not something I struggle with. I’ve got a million of them. When I get a new idea I make a note of it in a document I keep, and when I’m done with the project I’m working on, I go to my list to start the next book. (If you’re anything like me, you feel kind of “detached” when you don’t have a writing project you’re actively working on.) Anyhow, it’s once I get started on the project that issues sometimes arise. My desire to write and tell stories are enough to motivate me toward attacking the new work, but what I’ve found is they sometimes aren’t enough to sustain me. I have at least five to ten MG and YA manuscripts in varying stages of completion cluttering up my Dropbox or Google Drive. While I won’t say I abandoned them, I will say I’ve told them “It’s not you; it’s me.” So what made me walk away? Once the initial internal drive wore off, I simply lacked the motivation to keep going. Now I know myself well enough to know I could attack these anew and brute force them into being—and to be honest, I will most likely revisit the majority of them to see them to completion, but at this point I just don’t want to work on a project that I don’t love. Why? If you follow agents and editors very closely at all, the single common trait for all manuscripts they acquire seems to be their undying love for that manuscript. If that’s the case, how can I put forth a manuscript that I can’t get behind with the whole of my passion? I can’t. Which leads me to how to maximize my writing time. These unfinished manuscripts I’m alluding to aren’t just a couple thousand words. I may be fifteen, twenty, or even thirty thousand words in. (Yes, I know I should finish them. I will.) But until then, I’ve found a better way to make sure I’m invested. We all have passions—topics or ideas that hold our attention in a book, movie, documentary, show, article, anything. So what I did was make a list of those things, whatever they were. For me, among other things, my list contains aliens, monsters, and mysterious treasure. Soooo, I try to write stories that contain a combination of elements on my list. By doing this, I know I will be more invested in my book, AND... read more

It’s Conference TIME!

Ernest Hemingway said, “Writing, at its best, is a lonely life.” And if you’re a writer you know this to be true. For the most part when you fire up your favorite word processing app, it’s just you, a white screen, and the steady sound of clicking keys or your favorite tunes. Even if your favorite writing haunt is a well-trafficked coffee shop, when the characters start talking, it’s just you and them. On good days, writing transcends time as you measure the day not with hours and minutes, but with word counts and pages. And on a bad day, well, there’s always the internet to distract us. And when we go out? Enter our personal body guard: the cell phone. I recently read a number of articles discussing the dynamics of smartphone usage. Almost all of the authors mentioned that only after they temporarily put aside their phones did they see how reclusive their phones had prompted them to become.  The point? As previously mentioned, we writers tend to like being alone. We often work hard to find ways to avoid living/breathing human interaction, and if we do get in public? We use earbuds and glass screens to wall ourselves off. Now, the point isn’t to introvert-shame anyone. Nor is it to say that our writing suffers by not experiencing real-life human interaction (it does, but that’s a different post). The point is to offer you a friendly public-service announcement: ATTEND A WRITER’S CONFERENCE! Yes, yes, yes. You’ve seen through my disgustingly obvious endorsement. But it’s true. Most states have writing conferences of some type. WWAT’s favorite, the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators has 51 chapters in the US alone and over 80 Worldwide. “So what?” you say. So here’s an organization with people just like us. An organization made up of people who struggle like we do, sympathize, and most importantly, empathize with our situations. It’s an organization where we can attend a conference and be our introverted selves in a most excessive extroverted manner–you have to attend to know what I’m talking about. And the best part? After you’ve been to one, you too get to be the one saying, “I can’t wait to see everyone again!” Now, having said all of that, IF you happen to be in the Oklahoma City area <lame humor>and really, who isn’t since we are ridiculously centrally located </lame humor>, sign up. There’s still time. http://oklahoma.scbwi.org/2016-spring-conference-okc/ Hope to see you there! (And if it’s past Saturday the 16th... read more

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