Thursday, April 29, 2010

It's Goof-Off Day

Oh my, it's the fifth Thursday of the month. Okay, so this isn't a "regular post" day, and that must mean it's Goof-Off Day! So, if you want to help the bookworm eat words so his library won't burn down (we can all sympathize with how important this is!), do click on the link:

Monday, April 26, 2010

Well, Not as Prolific as Some, But...:)

I got this cool Prolific Blogger Award from fellow writer and ICL instructor Andrea Vlahakis. I love this picture. First, that's a great library, isn't it? And with a rueful chuckle I have to note that the poor girl looks like she has a headache. She's tired. She's frustrated. Sometimes that's the truth about writing. I should email this picture to my daughter, who's graduating from university in a mere few weeks with a psychology (and English) degree and label it "Distress-Focused Humor." She would share a chuckle with me. The picture relieves the pain of the truth by poking fun at it.

But she's persistent, isn't she? Look at that revision process. And I like that she's a bit retro. Look at all that paper. (I hope she prints on the back too for drafts, though. :)) Rather than pass on the award to specific individuals, I want all of you reading this, bloggers and writers, to remember we all share the ups and downs of this art/craft/business/passion, and that persistence and steady work make us prolific even if we never dreamed we could wear that label. I wish all of you a prolific day in the world of books.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Also Known as Harper, by Ann Haywood Leal

Harper Lee is a fifth-grader who can remember better times. Times when Daddy was nice, didn't drink, and still lived with them. Times when Mama read to her and her younger brother Hemingway, especially Mama's own favorite book, To Kill a Mockingbird, over and over. And always, Harper Lee has loved to write poetry. Simple, truthful, it has always poured out of her. Writing poetry is what she's always done in response to life, and she knows, with no arrogance or false modesty, that her poems are good.

But then came the stillbirth of a new baby, Flannery, and that was when things seemed to slip. Daddy took to drink, got mean, and left. Mama, who never finished high school, tries to support them as a cleaning woman and never quite makes ends meet. Hemingway has his waiting time outside every day, when he sits and watches for Daddy to return. And then the family is evicted, arriving home one day to find their belongings spread all over the yard. The worst thing, though, is that after they find a motel room to call home, Harper has to watch Hemingway during the day and can no longer go to school. And that means she can't achieve her main ambition: to enter the poetry contest and get up on stage and read her poems out loud.

The gentle southern voice is a strength; we are shown, not told, that the book is set in the South. I also like the ways in which the characters rise above stereotypes. Harper and Hemingway meet a young boy, his mute older sister, and a disabled woman, all living in poverty and on the margins of society, yet these are more than the almost-cliche "quirky band of characters" that populate some novels. All have their own ingenious, unexpected ways of coping, their own gifts on display, their ways of surprising the reader, and even the insufferable Winnie Mae Early, daughter of the ex-landlord, shows a very human side. The clear message is that homelessness and tragedy happen to real flesh-and-blood people.

Though the book seems to want to give me more hope for the fate of homeless people than I quite dare have, Harper's discovery that missing the poetry contest doesn't mean never having a poetry reading is believable, and the ending is hopeful without being pat. Definitely recommended.

Monday, April 19, 2010

April Critique Giveaway Winners!

The winners of this month's critique giveaway are: Bish Denham and Amy Jo Lavin!

Here's the procedure. Email me at marcia at marciahoehne dot com:
  • The first 1000 words of your magazine story, chapter book, mid-grade novel, or YA novel pasted into the body of the email.
  • Be sure to tell me the genre of the material (one of the above four).
  • Put "(Month) critique winner" in the subject line.
  • The deadline to submit your ms. for critique will be the DAY BEFORE the next month's critique contest begins. Critique contests always begin on the third Thursday. Therefore I must hear from the April winners by May 19.
  • When I receive your email, I'll acknowledge receipt and let you know when you can expect my response.
Congratulations to Bish and Amy Jo, thank you all so much for stopping by and entering, and by all means enter again next month! Wishing you all a great day in the world of books...

Thursday, April 15, 2010

April Critique Giveaway

It's critique time. Enter to win! Here are the rules and caveats:
  • I will critique TWO manuscripts each month. By "manuscript" I mean the first 1000 words of a children's magazine story, chapter book, mid-grade novel, or YA novel. Please, fiction only. No picture books or easy readers. No poetry.
  • Enter the drawing by commenting on this post AND stating that you wish to enter. This frees you up to comment, ask a question, or just say hey WITHOUT throwing your name in the hat.
  • For an additional entry, become a follower, and tell me so (or that you already are one) in the comment.
  • For an additional entry, post a link to this contest and give the URL in either the same or a separate comment. In this category, you can enter as many times as you have cyber-places to post the contest.
  • You may enter one ms. per month. While the above rules allow you to enter multiple times, those entries are for ONE manuscript. If the #2 name drawn is a duplicate of #1, drawing will continue until a new name is drawn. This way, two people are assured of a critique each month.
  • Enter anytime on April 15, 16 or 17.
  • Any story that you plan to enter in an ICL contest is ineligible. Since I am an ICL instructor, I cannot edit stories that you intend to enter in an Institute contest.
  • The level of detail I offer in a critique will vary based on my impression of the caliber of the writing. Whenever possible, I will make both "big picture" comments and zero in on more specific areas.
  • My critique is only one opinion. This business is SO subjective. Any suggestions I make that resonate with you are yours for the taking. Compare mine with those from other beta readers, critique partners, writing teachers, etc. Even if specific suggestions vary, when two or more critiquers pinpoint a certain passage or aspect, there's probably a need for revision there. Yet don't feel you must take advice you don't agree with. In the end, it's your story.
  • Winners will be announced on Monday, April 19.
So if the above sounds good to you, let the entering begin!

Thursday, April 8, 2010

What Pulls You Out of a Story?

As a reader, how often have you heard or said it? "The (language, verb tense, factual error, irritating character, clear evidence the author knows beans about Dallas) pulled me out of the story." We probably all have, and being pulled out of the story can of course be disappointing and may even make us put the book down for good. But is being pulled out of the story always bad? I think not.

You know what pulls me out of the story in a good way? Beautiful language. Just the right verb or noun, or an original metaphor or simile that just nails a comparison top the list. I leave the story's world momentarily to think, Oh my, that is gorgeous; that's the kind of thing I want to do; this is a good writer and in the next instant plunge back in all the more eagerly. Some readers, it lately seems to me, want nothing less than full immersion in the storyline itself from first page to last. But is that realistic, and it is the truth about the reading experience? I believe reading is interactive. Different parts of my brain, heart and spirit are engaged in different ways as the story unfolds. At times I dive deep and almost forget myself; at other times I ascend a bit (trying to imagine myself in the character's situation, say); at other times I come to the surface to ponder something for a minute or say, "Oh man, that's a great phrase," and then dive again, all the more excited about the story precisely because the good writing has penetrated my consciousness.

Yet, too much pulling out of the story interferes with formation of the "I'm part of this world" experience that can catapult a story to favorite status among readers. Being pulled out due to less-than-skillful writing, whether it's the choice of present tense when the story seems not served by it, a violation of the reader's suspension of disbelief, factual bloopers, or clunky language, is obviously worse than being pulled out for a neutral or positive reason. I'm reading a novel now that I don't want to identify because this post isn't an actual review of that title. It placed in recent award competition and for good reason: The story is engaging and original, and the book has considerably more strengths than weaknesses. I'm very interested in what happens next. guessed it. Phrases such as "She had glossy black hair with pink cheeks" pull me out of the story. Her hair has pink cheeks? "Their silver armor reflecting in the hot sun..." Naw, either the armor reflects the sun or the sun reflects off the armor, but the armor doesn't reflect in the sun. Glinting would be a better verb. "Everything about her seemed finer and more delicate than the average person"? Nope, compare traits to traits, not traits to people. And at risk of being really picky: "'Go away,' __ thundered, in a voice that even made __ quake." The sort-of-lazy ways we talk shouldn't make it into our third-person narrative. The placement of that little word "even" affects meaning. "Even made __ quake" means the voice made __ do several things, of which quaking was the extreme. What the author meant was "made even __ quake," which means __ was the least likely of those present to quake, yet she did. As I said, I'm still reading and I'll read to the end with interest. But I'm not one who can just read for plot; in fact, reading just for plot pulls me out of the story. Top-notch writing, meaning in this case the stellar use of language, may pull me out for a moment to gaze at its beauty, yet that's the very thing that keeps me most happily immersed for the long haul.

How about you? What pulls you out of a story? Is that always a negative experience for you? Or do you think it can be good, even part-and-parcel of what it means to read a story?

Monday, April 5, 2010

April Book Giveaway Winner!

The winner of A Whole Nother Story by Dr. Cuthbert Soup is: Mary Witzl!

You have 30 days to claim your prize, Mary. No later than May 5, email me at marcia at marciahoehne dot com, giving me your postal address, and I'll acknowledge receipt and get that right out to you!

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Happy Resurrection Sunday

The cross is empty. The tomb is, too. Death is defeated. Rejoice, be glad, happy Easter. :)

Thursday, April 1, 2010

April Book Giveaway

I'm generally not a fan of wacky. This brand-new book (January 2010) is said to be a little like Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events, which I've never cared for, a little like the Secret Series by Pseudonymous Bosch, which I've not read, and to me it's also a tad like The Mysterious Benedict Society books, which I've both read and liked. But when I picked this book off the shelf, I was hooked right away: It's just plain funny. Dr. Cuthbert Soup, as the author calls himself, talks directly to the audience, which I happen to think works well in a humorous book. Besides being a storyteller, he's also an advice giver, inserting funny first-person asides between the chapters of the story, written in third person. In short, the story is about a scientist who builds a time machine that governments, spies and crooks the world over want to get their hands on, so he and his three "smart, pleasant, witty, attractive, polite, and relatively odor free" kids (ages 8, 12, and 14) hit the road in search of somewhere they can have a normal life--which you know is something these people will never find. Staying just ahead of the bad guys all the way, they must twist, turn and brainstorm their way out of trouble. Here's an example of the humor that hooked me: "Dictionaries, in my experience, are full of words that most people will never, ever use....At the same time, the snobbish dictionary conglomerates refuse to include words that people commonly use on a daily basis. Words such as nother, as in "That's a whole nother story." Or boughten, as in "I haven't boughten a dictionary in years." And the beginning of chapter 1: "If you're anything like me, and most of you are by virtue of cell structure..."

To be entered in the drawing:
  • Comment on this post anytime on April 1, 2, or 3.
  • For an additional entry, become a follower of this blog and mention that in the comment. Ditto if you already are a follower.
  • For an additional entry, post a link to this contest and give the URL in either the same or a separate comment. In this category, you can enter as many times as you have cyber-places to post the contest.
I'll tally the number of entries per person, put 'em all in the hat, draw one, and announce the winner bright and early on Monday, April 5.

So, come one, come all--and meanwhile have a great day in the world of books.