Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Kenyon Review Young Writers Workshop: Deadline March 1

For young writers in high school who live in Ohio or the surrounding area, this could be a really neat opportunity for this summer!

The Kenyon Review will accept applications through March 1st for its Young Writers Workshop, a creative writing adventure for 16-18 year olds held in Gambier, Ohio. Two sessions will be offered this summer: June 24-July 7 and July 15-28, 2012. Young Writers Workshop is an intensive two-week workshop for intellectually curious high school students who value writing. KR’s goal is to help students develop their creative and critical abilities with language—to become better writers and more insightful thinkers.

Learn more here: http://www.kenyonreview.org/workshops/young-writers/?utm_source=newsletter&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=mar2012

For those of you in southern California, I'll be holding my Fifth Annual Summer Writing Camp again this summer -- stay tuned for more info! :)

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Interview with Children's Book Author Joanne Lécuyer

I am so pleased to have Joanne Lécuyer as a guest on the blog today! She has a Bachelor of Arts in Communications and Visual Arts from the University of Ottawa and a Diploma in Public Administration from the University of Quebec. She is also a Professional and Personal Coach and Reiki Master. Joanne has worked for the Canadian federal government for over 25 years, with the last 15 years in strategic and organizational communications to help management and employees communicate better. She has published two children’s books “The Witch, the Cat and the Egg” (2010), and “Kaptain Vamp” (2011).

What would you like readers to know about you as an introduction?

I’m Canadian and was born in Timmins, Ontario. I come from a small town called North Bay, Ontario, where I lived until I was 18. I now live in a small rural community near Ottawa, Ontario with my husband Rick, our dog Kato and two cats, Black Magic and Minx (photos on the website). I love nature so I like small towns. I only starting writing children’s books 2 years ago and I love it!

Tell us about your most recent book "Kaptain Vamp." What was your inspiration behind this book?

Kaptain Vamp is my second children’s book. The story is about a young vampire named Allistaire, who is also part human, who wants to change the fact that humans are afraid and distrustful of vampires. His family has been living among humans for hundreds of years and they’ve always used their abilities for good. One day, while reading his favorite superhero comic, Allistaire decides that he’s going to do everything he can to help humans. He enlists the aid of his best friend Rich to help him become Kaptain Vamp.

Since vampires have been so popular with teens and adults, for the last few years, I thought it would be fun to write a story about them for kids. I liked the challenge of taking this theme and making it positive, so it wouldn’t give kids nightmares. Also, I thought a vampire-human superhero would make a good story. I’m getting a lot of good feedback – seems my readers agree.

What have you learned through writing this book?

It’s possible to write a positive story about vampires. Also that, although it’s a challenge, it’s gratifying to self-publish.

How did you get started writing?

I’ve been writing stories for children for about 2 years now. But, it all started about 6-7 years ago, after spending a weekend with my younger brother. He’s a graphic artist and has always been extremely creative. On my way back home on the train, I jotted a story down on some scraps of paper that I called Topsyturvia. When I got home I just put the pages away.

In 2009, I remembered the story and transcribed into my computer and just kept adding to it. I got to about 6,000 words and read it to my husband–who can sometimes be brutally honest. He told me that he thought it was a very good story. I gave a copy to a few colleagues with children and they liked it too. I worked on it some more and asked my brother to do the illustrations for the book Topsyturvia. And then more stories came. In 2010, I published my first book The Witch, the Cat and the Egg, and in 2011 I published Kaptain Vamp. Topsyturvia should be out later in 2012!

What is your writing process like? Do you write on a computer? In a spiral notebook? Do you draw illustrations?

I seem to get my story ideas early in the morning while I’m walking to catch the bus or during my commute into the city. But sometimes they come when I’m really tired, after a long day at work. I always keep a small notepad and pen with me to jot down ideas (something small enough to keep in my purse). Generally, I sit down to write when the inspiration comes which is sometimes once a day, a week or a month. In one sitting, I may write as little as a brief outline or a whole chapter. When I’m getting close to finishing a story, I’ll stay up until the wee hours of the morning to get it done. I like writing with a computer since you can move things around.

When I started writing children’s books, I decided that I wanted them to include lots of images and they had to be in color. So I was looking for the style of illustrations to match the story I was trying to create. I like working with different illustrators. I met the illustrator for Kaptain Vamp, Amy Rottinger, through LinkedIn. I’d liked what I saw on her website (www.arottinger.daportfolio.com). Amy and I chatted on the phone. She was very enthusiastic, and we just hit it off. We worked through email. I gave her an electronic version of the book, told her how many images I wanted in each chapter, and asked her to submit her ideas. She was great to work with and the results are amazing. I love the book. We are now working on a comic book. When I was younger, I thought I might be an illustrator. I realized however that I was more of a copy artist. I had trouble inventing characters or scenes. In the last two years, I found that I’m a better storyteller. For kids stories, I think pictures help create some of the story magic and I don’t want to write a book without them.

How do you get ideas for what you write?

The Witch book idea came from memories of reading Snow White and Cinderella. I just love how they could talk to the animals. So Juliane is a young witch that lives on the border of a magical forest who can talk and understand the magical creatures that live there. For Kaptain Vamp, I wanted write about good vampires and a superhero type. In Topsyturvia, it’s all about mixing different animals even the flora and fauna, and I’m using dream time as the vehicle for getting there. A lot of it is using my imagination. That’s what is fun about fantasy and fiction – anything goes. But you still have to make it somewhat believable – that’s the challenge.

What is your biggest advice for other writers and young people reaching for their dreams?

Just do it! Write down your ideas when you get them. I carry a little notepad with me and jot down all my ideas in there. When I have the time to finally sit and write, I pull it out and the notes and ideas get me going. Write the best story you can and ask friends and colleagues to be your test readers. They can help find the holes in the story and give you ideas. Don’t try to edit your own work. A good editor is your friend. As the author, I think we sometimes forget to add some of the details that we have in our head. Of course, you don’t have to take all the suggestions you get. But I do think that considering them makes for a better story in the end. I write for children, so I get kids and their parents to read the draft manuscript. Initially, I think I write the story for me. But I also want to share it, so it needs to be enjoyable for the reader–the kids, their parents or grandparents.

What are some of your favorite books?

Did I mention that I really enjoy fiction and fantasy? For children’s books, I would have to say all the Disney classics. That’s what I grew up reading. Other books that stand out are The Hobbit, Lord of the Rings, The Chrysalids, and The Stand. My husband and I are reading an oldie but goodie trilogy about Merlin by Mary Stewart (Merlin is my favourite character). I’m also reading a French series called “Les chevaliers d’Émeraude” (The Knights of Emerald) by Anne Robillard – there are 12 books and I’m only on book 3. I’ve just finished the “Twelfth Insight” by James Redfield – I loved The Celestine Prophecy.

Is there anything else you would like to add?

When I started writing stories for children, I decided that I would write the kinds of books that leave my readers feeling good and wanting more; that also leave them with a smile on their faces. The type of book that you can read to kids before they go to bed that will help them have good dreams! That’s what Topsy Books is all about. My personal motto is “Dare to imagine and believe in the magic of possibilities!” I hope that new readers will make Topsy Books part of their reading collection.

There will be a sequel to The Witch, the Cat and the Egg in 2012 and to Kaptain Vamp next year. I’m currently working on two comic books and a French version of the Witch book. My books are available on my website, Amazon.com and Barnes and Noble.com

Connect with Joanne:

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Review of "Will Grayson, Will Grayson"

Will Grayson, Will GraysonWill Grayson, Will Grayson by John Green and David Levithan

I greatly enjoyed this book. I have read and loved a number of other YA books by John Green (Looking for Alaska is one of my all-time favorites) and I just read David Levithan’s first novel for adults, The Lover’s Dictionary, which I also found clever and fun and surprisingly wise, much like Will Grayson, Will Grayson.

I think teenagers will be drawn into this book immediately by the by turns sarcastic, witty, and almost painfully honest voices of the two Will Grayson narrators. The structure of alternating chapters is addictive and really pulls the story forward, and it is a satisfying moment when the storylines first intersect. I was happy that they remained interconnected throughout the remainder of the novel. Technology and the Internet are of high importance to the plot of the book, which I think teenagers will relate to, and I was impressed by how these two authors manage to thoroughly inhabit the world of teenagers—everything from text messaging to IM conversations/ lingo to the logistics of getting a fake ID so you can go see a band you love at an over-21 club. The voices of the two narrators feel distinct, which is heightened by one will grayson only writing in lower-case.

I think this book is also an important and worthy read for the way it portrays gay characters with nuance, compassion and honesty. Tiny I think represents one possible portrayal of a gay man, that perhaps is closer to a stereotype we often see in media and pop culture of the “gay best friend.” But I think this resists empty stereotype in the book because Tiny is juxtaposed with will grayson, who is still in the process of understanding his identity as a gay man, and Gideon, who seems somewhere in the middle —accepting of his gay identity, yet not as flamboyant or outspoken about it as Tiny is. Moreover, this book is not just about queer identity, but about identity in general and about all the many different ways to love and be loved by others.

Caveats: The book includes underage drinking, cursing, and going to over-21 clubs with fake IDs. It might be most appropriate for a high school audience.

Themes/motifs: friendship, family, class issues, gay/queer identity, technology and Internet communication, happiness, anger, music, self-identity, memory, love, guilt, redemption, insiders/outsiders

Teaching ideas: In the book Tiny writes Tiny Dancer, a musical about his own life and experiences as a gay teenager, and it is through this act of writing his story for the stage that he reevaluates his friendships, comes to acceptance of the pain he has gone through, and traces broader "themes" of his life. Along a similar vein, teachers might use this book to challenge students to revisit a scene from their own lives, perhaps a painful or intense memory or turning point that shaped their identity, and write this as a scene that might appear in a play. In writing about it in this format (rather than a journal entry or a poem, for example) students are forced to pull back from the memory and consider it from an outside perspective, and also perhaps delve a little inside the hearts and minds of the other people who took part in the memory, the other "actors" in the "scene."

Other books by John Green: Looking for Alaska; An Abundance of Katherines; Paper Towns; The Fault in Our Stars; contributor to the short story anthology Let it Snow.

Other books by David Levithan: Boy Meets Boy; The Realm of Possibility; Are We There Yet?; Marly’s Ghost; Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist; Wide Awake; Naomi & Ely’s No Kiss List; How They Met, and Other Stories; Likely Story; Love is the Higher Law; Dash & Lily’s Book of Dares; The Lover’s Dictionary. He is editorial director at Scholastic, and the founding editor of the PUSH imprint, which is devoted to finding new voices and new authors in teen literature.

View all my Goodreads reviews

Sunday, February 19, 2012

7 Ways to Be Inspired

I subscribe to a daily email newsletter called "One Minute Motivator" by Edward W. Smith. Each day, Smith sends out a brief email with something to consider for the day and to get you motivated. I'd highly recommend signing up -- it is always a great start to my day!

The following is from a recent "One Minute Motivator" that I found especially applicable to the writing life:

Here are 7 ways to be inspired:

1. Approach things with a child-like wonder.

2. Be a continuous learner and watch your life expand.

3. Shift from negative statements to positive statements; change from "I can't" to "How can I?"

4. Clear out the clutter in you physical and mental environment.

5. Make notes of inspirational things you see around you.

6. Take time to reflect on what is going on in your life right now.

7. Be compassionate with yourself and others.

I think these are not only great ways to get inspiration for your writing, but for all aspects of your life as a whole!

Edward W. Smith is the author of Sixty Seconds To Success, the Producer/Host of the Bright Moment cable TV show, is President of The Bright Moment Seminars, and a motivational speaker. Visit the Bright Moment Blog at http://brightmoment.com/blog.asp.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Review of Moon Over Manifest by Clare Vanderpool

Moon Over ManifestMoon Over Manifest by Clare Vanderpool

What drew me in right away was the voice of Abilene Tucker, the book’s spunky, curious, and honest young narrator for the present line of action. In the acknowledgments at the end of the book, Vanderpool thanks her grandparents, whose voices were in her head while writing: “Their voices and their stories, which I heard as a young girl, are the heart and soul of this book” (349). It is a book that begs to be read aloud. The voice sweeps the reader into the world, and it is not long before Abilene seems like a friend we know well.

In addition, I was greatly impressed by the way Vanderpool weaves history into a highly engaging narrative. By choosing to set the “present” storyline of action in 1936, and the past in 1918, Vanderpool is able to paint a vivid portrait of two distinct periods in U.S. history. In the 1936 storyline, Abilene thinks of 1918 as being in the distant past; for today’s young readers, who likely think of both 1918 and 1936 as a blurred "looong time ago," this subtly pushes them to consider the many different periods of the past, and that their grandparents and great-grandparents were once children like Abilene (and readers themselves.) The historical framework is reinforced by Vanderpool's choice to use newspaper clippings and letters home from World War I to tell the story in addition to a more straightforward narrative.

Other books by Clare Vanderpool: "Navigating Early" is forthcoming

Themes/motifs: the importance and healing powers of storytelling; collective memory; love of family and friends; home is “not down on any map; true places never are”; history: World War I, Great Depression, Prohibition/Temperance Movement, immigration, mining community, small town life

Teaching idea: Ask students to become historians themselves by writing down an oral history narrative, much as Abilene does in the novel. They could talk to their parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, or even visit a nursing home and talk to residents there. What was life like for them as children? What are some funny stories they remember from growing up? Ask students to write one of these stories down, as if they are Miss Sadie divining the past, or Abilene piecing together the information she hears about Jinx/Gideon.

View all my Goodreads reviews

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Publication Opportunities for Young Writers

It's been a while since I've posted a list of possible opportunities for young writers to get published. Here is a brief list of some of my favorite literary journals/websites that actively look to publish the work of kids and young adults:

Best of luck submitting -- and remember, rejection is something every writer has to deal with and is NOT a measure of your abilities and talents as a writer! The true joy should come from the process of writing and sending your work out there into the great unknown. It can be really fun and exciting to be part of the writing and publishing community by submitting your work, and I encourage all of you to give it a try!

As always, keep me posted, and feel free to leave a comment or email me with any questions or concerns you have. I am here for you!

Monday, February 6, 2012

Review of Ship Breaker by Paolo Bacigalupi

Ship Breaker (Ship Breaker, #1)Ship Breaker by Paolo Bacigalupi

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I was completely riveted by this book from beginning to end. The book starts off “in medias res” with Nailer in the pitch-dark bowels of an oil tanker and the tension and action only builds from there. I never found myself glancing ahead, waiting for the action to pick up—the tension was always palpable. Bacigalupi does an incredible job building a world that seems vivid, dangerous, and wholly real. Set in the future, there were enough details recognizable from life today (hurricanes, oil tankers, the Gulf Coast region, tension between rich and poor) that this dystopian future felt eerily possible. This would be a great book to teach in conjunction with a science unit on hurricanes or a history unit on New Orleans and the recent oil crisis.

Nailer is a character that I think many young people, particularly boys, will relate to. He is brave, daring, intelligent, and also has a lot of heart. He is easy to root for, and I was very quickly swept up into his life and perspective. The prose is fast-paced, filled with vivid imagery and details, yet also easy to follow.

Caveats: There is a great deal of violence, and also mentions of drugs, underage drinking, and innuendos of sexual violence. It might be most appropriate for a high school audience.

Other books
by Paolo Bacigalupi: The Windup Girl and Pump Six & Other Stories. (He is known as a “biopunk”/sci-fi writer for both adult and YA audiences.)

human destruction of nature; climate change/global warming; wealth versus poverty; corruption of power; compassion and being generous and kind towards others; “family” defined as people who make you feel safe; gumption and courage

View all my Goodreads reviews

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Interview with James Garcia, Jr.

I am so delighted to have James Garcia, Jr. as a guest on my blog today! James was born in the Central California town of Hanford. He moved up the road to Kingsburg with his family as a child. After graduating KHS, he attended Reedley College, where he met his wife. They, along with their teenage sons, still make their home in Kingsburg which is also the setting of James’ debut vampire novel. Dance on Fire was published in 2010 and its sequel is scheduled for an early 2012 release.

What would you like people to know about you as an introduction?

I suppose the first thing I would like people to know about me is I’m just like them. I have a day job, a family, chores that need doing and I could use a few more hours in the day to be able to attend to everything, as well as my writing and everything that goes with all of that. I work as an Administrative Supervisor for Sun-Maid Raisin Growers of California. My day begins at 2:45 am and I’m in the office by 3:30 am. I work nearly 12 hours a day, five days a week. After squeezing in a little exercise, I can be found on my laptop, plugged into Twitter, Facebook and Google + while I catch up on networking and blog visiting. I head to bed at about 7:45 pm to try and get a little reading done before falling asleep.

Wow, that sounds like a full schedule indeed! Kudos to you for finding time to write even with such a busy schedule. Tell us about Dance on Fire. What was your inspiration/motivation behind this book?

I never intended to write a vampire novel, but found myself doing so quite by accident. I originally thought I was simply writing a crime thriller until a vampire came walking out of the shadows of one scene. The novel took twenty years because I pushed it away as marriage became family, and was followed by careers for each of us, etc., etc., etc.

I’m pushing 43 now, but when I turned 38, I really began to sense the regret that I was going to feel if I didn’t pull that manuscript out and see it completed. Over the course of the twenty years it went from being hard R-Rated material to the PG-13 crossover version that it is today. It went from being a crime thriller to vampires with Christian themes. I like to tell people that I thought the world needed another vampire story like a hole in the head, so I went with a crossover
slant to try and find my niche in the publishing world.

What have you learned through writing this book?

I learned that I am indeed a writer. I wrote a complete book with all of the components that one needs to have a working story. It may not be the next great American novel, but it has garnered fantastic reviews which I am forever grateful for. I did have that moment after the first one was done where I began to question whether I could do it again, considering the first one took so long. I wrote the first two drafts of the forthcoming sequel in eight months.

Amazing! So how did you get started writing in the first place?

I found horror novels while in Junior High. This was in the early 1980’s. I was inspired by The Amityville Horror, Jaws, most things Stephen King and Michael Slade. I grew my hair long and took up the electric guitar, thinking I might be a musician; however, I eventually began writing short stories instead of song lyrics.

What is your writing process like? Do you write on a computer? In a spiral notebook? Do you draw illustrations?

In the beginning I was a total pantser. I just turned on the computer and began typing. These days I have begun to outline a bit more. Creating an outline that is several binders thick takes the fun out of it for me. God love the ones that do that, but it isn’t for me. I want to be surprised a little by where a story is heading, too! For my third novel, which is only 10,000 words into its first draft, I have an outline that paces the plot for me with very general details.

The one thing that might make me a bit different from other writers is that I "see" the story. Once I hatch an idea, I begin to picture it and the direction that it might be heading. When I am ready to begin writing, I picture the first bit of action during the day before, as if watching a movie. The next day I sit myself down at the laptop and begin typing what I saw. Once I have written all that I saw, I leave and begin allowing the next bit of action to occur to me. The next day the process is repeated.

I don’t have the luxury of writing every day, although I am still attempting to figure out how I might be able to do so. At this point I spend most of my free time simply trying to get the word out there via networking and promotion.

How do you get ideas for what you write?

Once I had the first book, the sequel wrote itself. I have a third book in the series, too, but I have taken a break from those characters to write something else. I love haunted house stories and have always wanted to write one. I held off until recently because I didn’t want to simply retread over the same tired old ground. Too many ghost story films and books have started well, only to end poorly, and I didn’t want any part of that. Some inner office in the back of my brain has had staff working on this, searching for a great idea, and I think I may have found it. *laughs* I don’t want to say too much about that just yet. Perhaps spending most of the year networking, and little time worrying about next projects, helped keep the dreaded writer’s block away.

What is your biggest advice for other writers and young people reaching for their dreams?

It is easy for me to say, having one book published and another on the way, but please do not let having your name appear on a book be the defining characteristic that qualifies you as a writer. It only means that I was fortunate. You are a writer! If you are a writer, follow that dream. Move heaven and earth to see that dream come true. I just don’t want to be sitting in that old folks home at the end of my life with the thought that I should have tried harder, and you don’t either.

That is so true! My next question is, what are some of your favorite books?

Good question! I still think The Amityville Horror is one of the scariest books ever, whether you believe it happened or don’t. Headhunter by Michael Slade is fantastic. Clive Barker’s The Thief of Always is a fable that can be read to the kids. In spite of the fact that I write horror, my favorite book is Beach Music by Pat Conroy. My sister-in-law twisted my arm to read it. Once I did, I haven’t stopped reading it; so many plotlines and great characters. It is the most brilliant
piece of fiction that I have ever read.

Is there anything else you would like to add?

Only that I have been blessed. Sometimes I wonder whether my job is to write more books or to inspire others to follow their dreams and write theirs. If so, I’m okay with that. Thanks so much to your audience for taking the time, and thank you, Dallas, for having me. It has been great to meet you.

Thank you so much for being my guest today, James! It has been wonderful to meet you!

Connect with James at his blog
: http://jamesgarciajr.blogspot.com/