Saturday, April 26, 2014

April Showers: Implicit Characterization

Hi folks, I've been sharing this month what waters my soul as a writer. I'm at the SCBWI Houston Conference this weekend. I had the pleasure of reading FREAKY FAST FRANKIE JOE by Lutricia Clifton from Holiday House as a homework assignment from Mr. Gary D. Schmidt (an author I've wanted to take a class from for a long time).  I will be honest the title was not exactly wowing me, but I thought I will give it a shot. Dang, I didn't get to bed until one a.m. and I'm getting too old for this. I could not put this book down. This is my favorite one in a long time.

Here's the nutshell synopsis from Amazon: "When twelve-year-old Frankie Joe's mother is sent to jail, he is uprooted from his home in Texas to live with the father he has never met, his father's wife, and his father's four "legitimate" sons in Illinois. Frankie Joe is miserable. Trying to adjust to his blended family proves too much to bear, so Frankie Joe hatches a plot to escape on his bike back home to Texas. For that he needs money, and so Frankie Joe's Freaky Fast Delivery Service is born. His deliveries win new friends, a place in the rural Illinois community, and a sense of achievement. But his planned escape is destroyed by a heartbreaking betrayal, and Frankie Joe needs all of his incredible resilience and the loving support of his new family to survive the devastating loss"

This book is a master class in implicit characterization. I knew every single person (haha, they were that real to me, not characters) after I read it. It's written in first person and I was totally immersed in main character Frankie Joe's POV.  He's a great kid who has been dealt an incredibly awful  hand in life.  Interactions, reactions, and inference stitch this book together.

Clifton doesn't bog down the story with narrative. I love the tension created through her implicit characterization (much showing, little telling). Like when Frankie Joe's dad says he's only had one legal wife, and Frankie Joe gets it internally -- he's not legitimate. I love that Frankie Joe is surviving because of his plan to return home, this is his interior reality, and then that is put up against this loving family and town of stability that is wrapping around him. All  kinds of tension are created from that. I love how much he loves his mother regardless of her faults and his heart shatters when she betrays him. There is such truth in the unraveling of Frankie Joe's perception.

If you want to write in first person, have a large cast characters that are real people, and write cut above middle grade fiction, consider reading this FREAKY FAST FRANKY JOE. BTW, I don't Ms. Clifton at all. I just loved her book.

So that's April Showers. Next month I will be offering some the inside story of my book PLUMB CRAZY (Swoon Romance, release June 2014) for my PLUMB CRAZY May series.

This week we have a guest doodle from my artist son Jesse. He calls this: "British".

Here is the quote for your pocket:

I've never bought into any sort of hard and fast, this-box/that-box characterization. People are individuals. Yes, they may be expected to be a particular way. But that doesn't mean they're going to be that way. Margaret Atwood

Saturday, April 19, 2014

April Showers: Language and Style

I'm continuing my journey of what waters my writer's soul. I love to read books and I'm touching on a few books this month that have added creative water to my work. This week I'm going to chat about Kathi Appelt's TRUE BLUE SCOUTS OF SUGAR MAN SWAMP.  This is one fun read and has a swinging beat. In this story Bingo and J’miah, raccoon brothers are on a mission to save Sugar Man Swamp. Two things standout for me in this book -- language and style.

I love the language here. There is a rhythm in the cadence of the language that reminds me of music. Here's a bit of lyricism : "Nosotros somos paisanos. We are fellow countrymen. We come from the same soil." This bit gives me a good chill. I also love that the language uncovers place. For example: “They say that lightning never strikes in the same place twice, but the same is not true for courage. As it turns out, when courage strikes, it almost always begets more courage.” The choice of begets here coupled with lightning puts me in mind of an old time southern Gospel preacher. I also get some Texas swing and Texas drawl on every page. I kept smiling with each twist of phrase. Specific word choice creates universal appeal. It makes the language breathe. Check the similes in your book. Watch out for cliches. Do better.

The style of TRUE BLUE SCOUTS is all about the southern storytelling tradition with the Texas tall tale tradition mixed in.  Multiple story lines weave here, and reminded me of a great uncle of mine who was a master basket weaver. He knew just how to bend a strip of bark or a stalk of sugar cane into the perfect basket shape. Appelt jumps from head to head: raccoons, a rattle snake, humans,feral hogs, the Sugarman and more. She captures in her word basket the need to save our natural places, the preciousness of the world around us, and what exactly it means to be a hero. Style has a job, and in this case it's to bring everyone around to the back porch for a story, to offer chills, laughs, and riotousness and to learn something too. Think about your style and do more.

I hope that you put you best efforts into the language and style of your work this week. It might just transform into something bigger than you thought it could be. I will be back next week with more April showers. I hope you return too.

Also please consider checking out my upcoming ebook PLUMB CRAZY from Swoon Romance. Thanks!

This week the doodle is on a egg. Here is "Spidey Egg."

Here is a little quote for your pocket.
I admire people who dare to take the language, English, and understand it and understand the melody. Maya Angelou

Saturday, April 12, 2014

April Showers: Book Heroes

I've been so busy this week.  I went to San Antonio and signed at The Book Festivals of Texas booth at the Texas Library Association's Annual conference. I also shared the news of my upcoming YA Rom-Com PLUMB CRAZY. Best of all, I spent a few days with some true heroes this week -- water for my soul this week.  I'm chatting about that.

I trekked across the great state of Texas with Kathy Whitehead, and truly felt like I had magically been transported to a Porfirio Salinas' painting. Here's a link to "Springtime in Texas" by Salinas. It makes me want shove my WIP in a corner and spend my days painting the world around me.

The wonderful DannyWoodfill of The Book Spot  in Round Rock, Texas was the bookseller for the Book Festivals' booth. Oh, independent bookstores fill me with happy feelings of freedom of speech. I also feel this happiness that someone is spending his life investing in the future, in his community and ultimately our whole county by adding fabric to the community. How? Who supports local authors? Who understands the specific needs of a local reading community? Who creates a hub for creative folk within a community? Who can guide a non-reader into the world of reading? (So huge!)  I hope this makes you want to drive over to your local independent and buy some books!

Big shout out for Tabatha Perry. She heads up the Montgomery County Book Festival. Again another cultural investment maven! A real hero! Here's an interview with her. How does she add to the fabric of our community? Who supports local writers? Who will create communities of readers who have a wide vision of the world through reading? Who will light imagination fires in the minds of teens?  Yes, Tabatha Perry! Books saved me as teenager. I have no idea how I would have survived those years without books. I wish there had been book festivals when I was a teen. 

Finally, I'm not forgetting the army of heroes, the Librarians of Texas!!!! Yes, these folks are the best ever. I am at war with Texas. Why? This stuff: Why do we need librarians in elementary schools? Let's save money in the budget and do away with those librarians.Why do we need any librarians at all?  Here is my why....we must facilitate life-long learners, an informed global community and all-access educated citizenry.

This apparently means little to so many Texans. Here is a link to Texas Literacy facts. Understand me. I love Texas. I'm a generational Texan. This is my home. But this galls me: Football is the important thing. I know this is not a popular stance, but I don't seen giant shining libraries across Texas. I see football fields, really fancy ones. I'd like to see a huge library as the fabric of community in every small town in Texas. I'd like to see a big staff of librarians stamping out ignorance that is choking the people of my state. 

Don't believe me?  My hometown football field: Waller ISD stadium (accommodates 10,000). My hometown library: The Melanee Smith Memorial Library (no words for how much I treasured this place as teen). The library doesn't have a website. Just a page.  There is one librarian.

Do me a favor  -- visit your local bookstore, your wonderful local library, and/or a local book festival, and thank important heroes in our world.

I will be back next week with more April Showers.  

Here is the doodle: Girl in Bluebonnets.

From a Texas gal I like, a quote for your pocket.

The library card is a passport to wonders and miracles, glimpses into other lives, religions, experiences, the hopes and dreams and strivings of ALL human beings, and it is this passport that opens our eyes and hearts to the world beyond our front doors, that is one of our best hopes against tyranny, xenophobia, hopelessness, despair, anarchy, and ignorance. Libba Bray

Saturday, April 05, 2014

April Showers: Water for the Creative Soul from Wesselhoeft

Hi folks, beautiful springtime is here in College Station, Texas. Blankets of bluebonnets, evening primrose, and Indian paint brush are splashed all over the county like a color-crazed artist needed to spruce up the dull browns and greens. So uplifting.

I begin my April Showers series. This is all about what waters my creative soul.  I'm going to discuss the juice of some recent reads. First up comes enrichment from Conrad Wesselhoeft's new book Dirt Bikes, Drones and Other Ways to Fly (HMH).  Here's a short synopsis from Amazon: Seventeen year-old dirt-bike-riding daredevil Arlo Santiago catches the eye of the U.S. military with his first-place ranking on a video game featuring drone warfare, and must reconcile the work they want him to do with the emotional scars he has suffered following a violent death in his family.

This is one kinetic read. Here are two techniques in this book that will open your eyes as you create your own work.

1. Leverage language. This is something that Wesselhoeft always does and this book is no exception. Here in the middle of of bruising narrative, high flying action, and heart-rending despair is a peppering of poetic beauty. Phrasing elevates this story --- "book of Job lousy year," "Something rises in me -- something halfway between a fist and a sob" and "the thing about a journey -- it pops you into focus and sweeps the mess of your life under the rug if only for a brief time." Shy away from bland word choice as you create your works, and you will add brilliance to your stories.

2. Say something. Dirt Bikes... is stitched together with  references to Mozart, Rossini, Martin Luther King, Buddha, Paul of Tarsus, Marcus Aurelius, Emerson, to name a few, and more obscure voices, like John Gillespie Magee, from his poem "High Flight." 
For I have danced the streets of heaven,
And touched the face of God.
Wesselhoeft is circling the idea that "Character is forever." Our choices will scar the world or uplift it. He digs deep into the idea of oversoul from Emerson. Oversoul is the river voices from each soul running together to make an ocean of soul stuff. Wesselhoeft uses many voices within this story to reflect this. Climb on the shoulders of giants as you write and say something. This is the oversoul of fiction.

I have at least a dozen pages of notes of  the lessons I learned while reading this book. I hope you realize that you are in  the battle of literacy as you create your books.  Do whatever it takes to widen the world, to stir up empathy, and to develop a continuing legacy. Use choice language and consider Rodin's "Thinker" at the gates of hell. Be that thinker at the gates. Write stuff that will make a difference.

Thanks for dropping by! I will have more showers next week.

Here is a doodle. "The Wind"

And finally a quote for your pocket.

What lies behind us, and what lies before us are but tiny matters compared to what lies within us. Ralph Waldo Emerson.