Best Book of August

It’s the end of August and I’ve only finished reading two books! In my defense they were both very long, and I’m reading two others as well which I just haven’t finished.

So—drum roll, please—the best book I’ve read this month was Alison Croggon’s The Crow. I tell you, this series has me by the throat!

Although The Crow features a different set of protagonists from the previous two novels, I loved these characters just as much, and their story is gripping.

If you haven’t checked out Croggon’s “Books of Pelinor,” I recommend you get to it. Start with The Naming. You’ll be caught up with me in no time!


Reading Response Exercise #51: Setting—Time, Place, Mood, and Art Materials!

Read for at least twenty to thirty minutes. When you are done, think about what you have read.

Get out some drawing paper and your crayons or colored pencils, watercolors or pastels. Now draw or paint a setting from the passage you just read. Play with colors, lines, and dimensions. Luxuriate in the pleasure of visual expression.

When you are done, strive to have produced a picture that not only looks like a place from your reading, but has the mood and feeling of the place as well.

I would love to see the result of your exercise. Please include the title and author of the book you are reading along with it. Someone else might just be inspired by your creation to read the book.

Play With Your Words #39: A Birthday Party for Someone you Love

Today is my oldest son Jeremiah’s birthday. Over the years he’s had a lot of fun birthday parties. Some of the most memorable included a big splash contest in my parents’ pool and a food fight in our back yard… (Deck the boughs with strands of pasta, tra-la-la-la-la tra-la-la-la.)

It’s fun to plan a party, be it a child’s, a grandchild’s, or my mother’s seventieth.

Think of someone you love and dream up a fantastic birthday bash you wish you could throw for them. Money, even reality, is no object. Write out the party like a scene from a novel. Include dialogue, setting, characters—guests and the guest of honor.

When you are done, share your party with your writing partners. Compliment  the strengths you see in each others’ writing. Particularly note vivid details and original thinking.

If you are working with a preschooler, ask him to choose a guest of honor he loves and tell you about the party he would give. Write down all she says.

When you are done, read back what he dictated, pointing to the words as you say them to reinforce the one-to-one-correspondence between the written and spoke word.

And please, share your parties as comment. Who knows what the next party I throw will look like with a little inspiration from you?

Agent Quest Part 3: A New Vision

Last week I was away at the Oregon Christian Writers Conference where I had lots of opportunities to take some excellent classes and pitch a few editors and agents. I made some good contacts, was invited by several agents and editors to send them my novel, The Swallow’s Spring. However, the most remarkable thing that happened was the new vision I gained for my writing career.

I have been a member of The Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators and publishing in the field of juvenile fiction for over a decade. I like this little pond. I have many friends here. And so I have kept hoping that I could make The Swallow’s Spring fly as a young adult novel.

Now a part of me has been suspecting for some years, thus my involvement with Oregon Christian Writers, that perhaps The Swallow’s Spring is really a work of adult historical fantasy. After all, in the second book the heroine does get married and deals with issues of marriage and fidelity into the third and final novel. (I know, at this point a few of you readers are thinking, “Duh, Debby. That doesn’t sound like YA to me.”)

Consider me a little slow on the uptake, or more accurately—a chicken. I like my little SCBWI and OCW pools. The water is warm. They’re comfortable. There’s lots of other friendly fish. However, after talking to agents and authors over these past few weeks I have to finally admit the truth. I write fiction for grown ups. Yikes!

So, while I came home with submission invitations to follow up on, I also came home with a new mindset to absorb. And you know what? I think I like it. I’m actually feeling excited. I think I’m ready to stretch my wings. (And just to confirm it a whole new novel with a twenty-something protagonist downloaded itself while I was in the shower Sunday morning. How cool is that!)

So I admit it. The Swallow’s Spring  is a work of adult historical fantasy, and so are its sequels. So is Crown, the working title of the novel I am eager to get to revising this fall.

However, I still have a little YA in my pocket—Set in Stone, the other novel I shopped around is a young YA or older middle grade novel, and it got some invitations this month. And Sleeper—a novel I’ve got drafted and awaiting revision, and Lillianna—my intended NaNoWriMo project for this year are definitely YA’s.

This is exciting! I need to sit down and get writing.

Reading Response Exercise #50: Author! Author?

Read for at least twenty to thirty minutes. When you are done, think about what you have read.

How do you picture the author of this passage?

What is it about what you read that makes you picture him or her in this way?

For a little extra fun, look up your author in the library or on the internet. Was he or she anything like you expected?

Agent Quest Part 2

I am actually not writing this today. I’m writing it in advance because I am away at another writing event—the Oregon Christian Writers Conference.

This is a conference I have attended for several years now. It’s four days and three nights, with mornings devoted to a single two and a half hour coaching class, and afternoons passed in workshops. I’m really looking forward to my coaching class. It focuses on developing believable characters.

I will be pitching agents here as well, and I have an appointment set up for mentoring with Jeff Gerke of Marcher Lord Press, who has worked in a variety of publishing houses and now specializes in speculative fiction. I am eager to talk to him about what I have done—retold folktales, written a middle grade fantasy novel, written a young adult, (or is it adult—as has been suggested by an agent from Willamette Writers) retelling of  medieval romance, drafted its sequels, and drafted a fantasy novel, and what I look forward to doing–drafting another fantasy novel during NaNoWriMo this November. I have found him to be an excellent writing instructor during past conferences and so look forward to hearing what he has to say.

So, read and write on all you readers and writers out there. I shall be sure to report on my experience next week.

Think About It…/Comprehension: Reading Response Exercise #49

We’re in the “dog days” of summer, when no one wants to do much because of the humidity and heat. It’s a great time to kick back and read with a tall glass of iced tea or lemonade on hand, ideally in a lounge chair or hammock in the shade. Mmm.

So let yourself. Read for at least twenty to thirty minutes. When you are done, think about what you have read and fill in the blanks in the following sentence:

“This text makes me wonder about __________ because __________…”

That’s it. No writing today. Think about what you’ve read. Maybe discuss it with your best friend. Step inside for a Popsicle, and then return to your comfort place and read some more.

If you happen to have a pre-reader kicking around, bored, spread a picnic blanket on the grass. Gather appropriate drinks, snacks, and a stack of picture books, and enjoy them together.

Stay cool, and have fun!

Prewrite Goldilocks: A Whole New Tale/Play With Your Words #38

Imagine. What would have happened if Goldilocks had stumbled upon the home of three goats, or three llama, or three squirrels, or three of any other species besides humans or bears?  Think about it for a few minutes. How would this impact the story? What kinds of possessions would she find in the new three’s home? How might she interact with them and the three animals. Now, make a timeline of your new story. Write a brief description of each key event (and if you feel ambitious, draw a quick sketch—who knows? You may end up with a graphic storybook). Now choose one event from your proposed story and write it out as a scene—complete with characters who live and breathe, a rich and detailed setting, and the king of conflict that sucks readers into a story for the long haul. When done, share your scene with your writing companions. Compliment the strengths and originality of each others scenes. Post your timelines (in the form of a list) here on the blog and the scene you wrote with it. I would love to see where your story took you! Have fun!

Agent Quest Part 1

I attended the Willamette Writers Conference last weekend. Wow, what a three days! I was told by a fellow attendee that this is the largest writers conference on the west coast. I don’t know if that’s true or not, but the dense, rich selection of activities surely made it the best cheesecake of a general conference I have ever attended.

As I have posted in the past, I am at that stage in my writing career when it is time to find an agent, and this conference had an entire ballroom full of agents—agents for screenwriters and every genre of writing you can imagine.

However, in addition to opportunities to pitch agents there were workshops, a minimum of 7 new-every-time offered four times throughout the day. And there were some time slots where I wished I had the magical ability to attend as many as three. I could have happily just attended workshops all weekend and felt I’d got my money’s worth.

However, I had committed to this conference as the first step in my agent quest. Therefore, appointments with agents had to take precedence over even the most enthralling workshops.

I met with six agents, and pitched a seventh after she had finished teaching a workshop on young adult literature. All seven invited me to submit pages (ranging from 10 to fifty, although one asked for the complete manuscript. (Don’t get too excited for me, however, because she asked everyone in the group pitch to send the whole thing. She said that was just her style.)

There were two ways to pitch: one-on-one appointments and group pitches.

A one-on-one was just like it sounds—you and the agent. There’s just enough time to deliver your pitch (the equivalent of the blurb on the back of a book) and answer the agent’s follow-up questions, and maybe ask a few of your own. People were pretty worked up before going to these, but honestly, all the agents I talked to were pretty nice. They were at the conference because they wanted to meet authors and find good stories they would like to rep.

The group pitch seated us around a table with about six writers and our chosen agent. Each of us had the opportunity to make our short, blurby pitch. Sometimes the agent gave feedback immediately, sometimes he or she waited and responded after hearing everyone. These took a little longer (twenty minutes out of workshop time, instead of ten :-( ) However, it was useful to listen as others pitched and determine what they did well (to imitate) or poorly (to avoid).

In addition to attending workshops and pitching agents, there were lunchtime speakers, and you could go for manuscript and film critiques, pitch practice, book signings, massages—for those who need to have the stress kneaded out of them, and an awards banquet.

I came home exhausted—satisfied, but exhausted. I’ve mailed out my pages to each agent as requested. Now its time to thoroughly research the agents for round two, which begins next Monday. Look out Oregon Christian Writers Conference, because here I come.

A Summer Metaphor Poem: Play With Your Words Poetry Prompt #14

When I was a kid, Charles Schultz, of Peanuts fame, used to put out little books that were basically a series of metaphors, for example, Happiness is a Warm PuppyA week ago Wednesday, I wrote a post, “Summer is…Writing Conference Season,” and the title reminded me of those little books and that poetry prompt Friday was coming up.

Thus the “Summer is…” metaphor poetry prompt–

Think of as many metaphors for summer as you can. Remember a metaphor is a comparison of one thing to another, stating that one is actually the other, thus emphasizing the things the two have in common. (For example, the Charles Schultz title above, Happiness is a Warm Puppy.) Make your metaphors as personal, specific, and concrete as possible.

When you have a good page of them, go back and see if any fall into groups that share a similar theme—for example the foods of summer: magenta and black speckled watermelon, candy-lope, twisty Red Vines, seared hot dogs with sauerkraut, Sweet 100’s cherry tomatoes fresh off the vine… Mmm! Your grouping may relate to recreational activities, summer clothing, summer movies, or anything else you associate with summer. Choose one of the categories and write a “Summer Is…” poem.

When you are done, share your poem with your writing friends. Compliment the strengths you see in each others’ writing, their vivid imagery, the poems’ effectiveness at summoning a “summer” feeling.

If you are working with a pre-reader, guide your little poet through the  same instructions as above, only you do the writing for your her. When you are done, read back what he has written, pointing to the words as you say them to reinforce the one to one correspondence between the written and spoke word. Together use photos, stickers, cut outs, or clip art to illustrate the poem and hang it somewhere it can be enjoyed by all the family.

Here’s mine: Summer is…

Waking up to sunlight
shining through the leaves,
Sipping my mocha, reading
Bathed by the morn’s coolbreeze,
Days that stretch long until nightfall,
Eating ice cream out on the lawn,
Sleeping with the window open
And next to nothing on.

Share your or your little one’s poems as a comment. I would love to savor your visions of summer, and I’m sure others would too.