Thursday, September 18, 2014

Soapbox Series #9 (or Reading, 'Riting, Ranting) -- Till, Until, and 'Til

Grammar Girl says she regularly gets questions about the differences between till, until, and 'til, and how to use them.

I say: ????? And when exactly did this "'til" thing come about?

'Til is apparently in the process of becoming accepted (shudder), but it is a totally unnecessary word. I think I know what happened: somewhere along the line people began to assume that "till" (as they heard it pronounced, not necessarily as they spelled it) was an abbreviation for "until," and they couldn't figure out why you wouldn't spell that as 'til. But till and until are actually separate words that are synonymous. Yes, till is a noun meaning cash register and a verb meaning to work the ground (lesser known, it's also a noun meaning a glacial drift or a stiff clay), but its #1 function and definition in my dictionary is as a preposition meaning "up to the time of; before; until." Of the two words, till is actually older. Until came later. 'Til came, well, way, way later, and, I believe, under mistaken circumstances. We don't need it. We already have the one-syllable form till, which is not an abbreviation.

The Associated Press Stylebook recommends till or until, but not 'til. Bryan A. Garner, of LawProse calls 'til a "little virus," and his quotes of several other usage guides includes this: "'Til is a variant spelling used by those who think (incorrectly) that till is a clipped form."

I'm pretty open to changes in the English language. I'll go pretty far with verbing nouns, and I think "they" and "them" will become standard singular pronouns for a person of unknown gender within my lifetime. But 'til -- nah. It's going to be a long time till I can go there.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Circa Now, by Amber McRee Turner

Someday, I'm getting a book cover this blue. Just saying.

Twelve-year-old Circa Monroe lives with her parents in a home whose most important room is Studio Monroe, where Mom runs her portrait photography business out of one half and Dad does his photo restoration work out of the other. Circa has a knack for intricate Photoshopping just as her dad does, and she had learned many techniques from him. But most important of all to Circa is the special file called "Shopt," consisting of just-for-fun Photoshopping weirdness and Dad's fun little stories to go along with the fantastical pictures. In creating this cozy, artsy, family atmosphere, Amber McRee Turner wastes no time at all making me want to live in Studio Monroe right now.

But that, as we know, is the status quo, and the status quo must change. When Dad heads out into a threatening tornado to deliver a restored photo to a particularly unpleasant family's reunion party, the worst happens. The tornado strikes the reunion site, and Dad is killed. Mom, whose depression and possible agoraphobia have been pretty well controlled by meds and the balance provided by Dad's presence, loses some of her functionality. This year, I have read no end of novels that are about dead parents and/or dysfunctional moms. I tossed some aside because it was just so much of the same that I was truly astonished. Not Circa Now. For one thing, the writing and turns of phrase are truly fresh. For another, the author makes me love the characters in the beginning, as "whole" selves, so that I care when they begin to falter. For yet another, the mother doesn't devolve so completely that she and Circa reverse roles. Besides all this, there is the mystery boy who appears at Studio Monroe out of nowhere, calling himself Miles and having lost his memory. And when random items that have been Shopt into photos start appearing or vanishing in real life -- e.g., a bird's nest appears in the tree outside Circa's window when Shopt into a picture, and a blemish falls off her friend's face when Shopt out of a portrait -- Circa has to wonder if maybe the reason they can't find Miles's home, and Miles can't find his memories, is that he doesn't have any -- because he himself was Shopt into existence.

Color me hooked.

This is one of those books where, even amid sad things happening, you want to be part of the characters' world. Add the good writing, the mystery, the light magical realism aspect, and the interspersed Shopt photos with attached stories (and the whole originality of that), and this book comes out a winner. Highly recommended.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Another Book for our Critique Group

My long-time critique group has celebrated a lot of books over the years. Just a week ago we did it again, when Mary (second from right) brought her new book to our group meeting. Mary's Go Round is a self-published collection of all the short stories she has worked on since...well, since we've been a group. The physical book and its design are absolutely gorgeous, and it's filled with all of Mary's shiny, polished stories. With the release of this book, she has crossed a major item off her bucket list.

"I don't know what I'm going to write next," said Mary. "But I'll have to write something. You don't want me to leave you, do you?"

"No," the rest of us said, shaking our heads as one.

"Well, then I'll have to come up with something," she said. "What about family stories?"

"Yes!" we chorused.

So, we'll have to see what Mary has for us next time. Here we are, holding our autographed copies and our bubbly. Congratulations, Mary.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Eclectic MWW Highlights, and a Blog Break

I'm back from the MWW -- Midwest Writers Workshop -- held last weekend at Ball State University in Muncie, IN. I simply had the best time imaginable. I met my agent in person. It was just so spectacular that I don't even know what to say. (Except, "I want to do it again! Preferably now!") Let me say this: If you can meet your agent, do it.

Things I learned:

  • This conference has been going on since 1973! 
  • Divergent author Veronica Roth found her agent there in 2009.
  • Faculty over the years has included Jessamyn West, Madeleine L'Engle, Stella Pevsner, Marion Dane Bauer, Clive Cussler, Lawrence Block, Lois Duncan, William Zinsser, Joyce Carol Oates, and Robert Newton Peck, to name only a few.
  • I am definitely no longer the complete pantser I once was. My favorite session was called "How to Write a Novel in 7 Steps," in which mystery writer Jess Lourey shared how she writes 60K-word novels in three months in her spare time. 
  • In another session, on setting, William Kent Krueger asked everyone to nail a description of their hometown in a sentence of less than ten words. He said, "Think about everything you don't have to say because you've said one thing really well." His example was a motel room with a dripping air conditioner and moldy carpet underneath it. You've got that room pegged, don't you? Here's what I jotted down about my childhood town: "Paper mill sludge perfumes the river that splits it." (Yes, this was before the first Earth Day. :)) 
It's pretty common for writers to come home from conferences ready to write. But while inspiration can come from session content or quotable speakers, it usually comes from the connections we make. I met my wonderful agent in person. I don't truly believe in luck, but the word somehow captures the feeling in the way that loftier, and sometimes smugger, words like "fortunate" or "blessed" just can't: I feel like the luckiest writer on the planet.

And I have plenty of writing to keep me busy. I'll be taking August off, but I'll see you here again on September 4. Have a wonderful rest of the summer!

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Off to the MWW!

That's Midwest Writer's Workshop, and it's being held July 24-26, at Ball State University in Muncie, IN. This is a large, annual conference with a fine faculty of authors, agents, and editors -- and this year, MY agent will be there! A link to the whole scoop is here.

The conference also happens to be not far from my son's home -- so, yeah, everything aligned for me to go. :) I'll share some tidbits next week!

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Every Day After, by Laura Golden

It's the Depression, and Lizzie Hawkins's father has taught her to always be tough and never accept charity. The thing is, Lizzie's father wasn't so tough himself: After losing his job, he's taken off and abandoned his family. Her father's abandonment has in turn caused her mother's, only in a different form. Lizzie's mother is now completely catatonic.

Lizzie feeds the two of them by fishing and tending the vegetable garden. She puts her mom to bed at night and gets her up in the morning. She does the laundry (which procedure is described in detail) and fixes her mom cups of tea. She has always been a top student (another demand of her father's). But now her heavy responsibilities mean her grades are slipping, to the delight of her nemesis, a thoroughly mean girl named Erin Sawyer whose family has recently moved to Alabama from Georgia. Erin wants to be top dog above all else, and, among other unreasonable demands, continually harangues Lizzie to pull out of an essay contest they have both entered.

Lizzie is not completely likable, and that might be a stumbling block for some readers. Specifically, she is quite self-centered, and when her friend Ben confronts her about it, we root for him. But not only does the author keep many readers (judging by the love this book has gotten) rooting for Lizzie in spite of her rather blatant faults, but she manages, in first-person narration, to convey that Lizzie is a somewhat unreliable narrator. The characterization, setting, and writing itself are nicely done.

We keep hearing that the Depression era has been overdone in historical fiction, yet here it is again. I would probably read any number of Depression-era novels, and apparently I have lots of company. Minor quibbles: This is yet another mother/child role-reversal story, and I'm honestly full-up on those. Erin is allowed to be much brattier in front of adults than I believe a child of that era could have gotten away with. And I just didn't buy the name Erin. For an obviously Irish character that might have been okay, but Erin was a popular name in the 1970s and '80s, not in 1917, the approximate year of the MC's birth. But as I said, minor quibbles. This is highly recommended.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

How to Promote that Non-Debut Novel -- Guest Post by Anna Staniszewski

Today I'd like to welcome Anna Staniszewski to the blog. Her newest novel is THE PRANK LIST, released July 1 from Sourcebooks Jabberwocky. She's here to talk about a subject I'd personally love to hear more about: marketing a novel when it's not your first -- when you don't qualify to join debut groups or otherwise capitalize on "debut" buzz. What do we do when we have to gear up for promo again, but on a second or later novel? Anna has some great tips. 

Marketing a Non-Debut Novel 
by Anna Staniszewski

When people ask me for advice on promoting their debut books, I tell them to try anything they can think of. If something works, use it again! If something fails, you’ll know better next time. But what should you do when your second (or fifth) book comes out? If you’ve been taking notes on what worked or didn’t the first time around, you’ll have a better sense of where to start. Here are a few other things to consider.

--Have a launch party. Do you feel guilty making your friends and family come out for yet another book event? Don’t! Think of it this way: wouldn’t you want to come support your friend or family member’s newest accomplishment? If your publication dates are close together (like mine are) then it might be fine to forgo an official launch, but make sure to have some event to help celebrate the book’s arrival. (I’m hosting a cupcake-decorating party at a local bookstore, for example.)

--Reach out to your community. Hopefully you’ve been keeping track of enthusiastic booksellers, supportive bloggers, etc. to contact again about your newest book baby. If people were excited about your first book, they’ll want to hear about your new one. Make sure to help promote them in return. Not only is this good etiquette, but it helps forge relationships for the future.

--Find your book’s implied audience. Is your title particularly good for mother/daughter book clubs, for example? Great! Put together a discussion guide and reach out to local libraries to see if they might be interested in using it. Is your book about a robotics competition? Awesome! Maybe there’s a local club you could team up with. Remember that every book--even if it’s part of a series--comes with its own marketing opportunities.

--Don’t be afraid to say no. If you know you hate doing school visits, for example, it’s okay not to do them. Use that time to write, instead. You’ll never be able to do everything, so you want to make sure that whatever marketing you choose is enjoyable and worthwhile. Again, keep a list of what you like and what works, so you can focus on those types of opportunities.

What are your marketing tips for debut or non-debut novels? Do you have any fun out-of-the-box ideas you’d recommend?

Born in Poland and raised in the United States, Anna Staniszewski grew up loving stories in both Polish and English. Currently, she lives outside Boston with her husband and their crazy dog. When she’s not writing, Anna spends her time reading, daydreaming, and challenging unicorns to games of hopscotch. She is the author of the My Very UnFairy Tale Life series and the Dirt Diary series. Her newest book, The Prank List, released on July 1st from Sourcebooks. You can visit Anna at