Monday, August 30, 2010

August Critique Giveaway Winners! says the winners of this month's critique giveaway are: Rebecca and Melissa!

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 August winners by September 15.
  • When I receive your email, I'll acknowledge receipt and let you know when you can expect my response.
Congratulations to Rebecca and Melissa, 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, August 26, 2010

Alchemy and Meggy Swann, by Karen Cushman

Critique giveaway still open, now through August 29! Scroll down one post!

Meggy Swann, born in 16th-century England with what we now know as congenital hip dysplasia, can only walk with a "stick, swing, drag" gait she calls "wabbling." Many believe she is a witch, or cursed by the devil. Only her maternal grandmother and pet goose Louise have ever loved her, and upon the death of the old woman her mother ships her off to her long-forgotten father, a London alchemist, who has sent for her believing she's a boy who can replace his former apprentice. But to his dismay she isn't a boy, and she's "crippled" on top of it. Obsessed with finding a formula to turn base metals into gold, he disappears back into his "laboratorium," ignoring his daughter completely and caring not a whit whether she even eats -- although neither does he. Pursuing his life's work takes money, and when Meggy fears he's conspiring in a plot to commit murder for financial gain, she's determined to stop him lest his head end up on a pole, like those of other criminals, in the streets of London.

Though I don't go for ill-tempered heroines in general, Meggy didn't put me off. Maybe it was the tears that balance her anger and her love for the goose that captured me. My favorite aspects of this novel are the specific, vivid detail of Elizabethan London and the characters' voices. I love lines like "Cease your bibble-babble, you gleeking goat's bladder!" and "Hellborn goose! In sooth you should be roasted, you clay-brained louse!" Meggy and her new friend, Roger, throw many insults back and forth, and though I suspect this feature was added to their relationship to show off all those marvelous Elizabethan-era insults, and they may be a bit thick for some child readers, they're still hilarious.

Gradually, Meggy and her father reach a sort of truce and she begins to help him in the lab. Though he throws out subtle hints that he cares for her slightly more than at first -- when he declares that ONLY "the work" matters I don't quite believe him -- I found Meggy's fear that his head might end up on a pole not totally plausible. I just wasn't convinced she'd come to care that much. But the cast of characters she meets along the way is fascinating, especially the Grimm family who saves Louise the goose from the butcher's block, and the way Meggy stops the murder from happening is clever and grows logically from the plot.

There's some quibbling over whether this book is YA or MG, but IMO it's upper MG. Some of the challenging language -- the characters speak Elizabethan in both vocabulary and syntax -- probably earned it the YA label (there is no mature content), but in every other way this is mid-grade. Recommended!

Thursday, August 19, 2010

August 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 now through Sunday August 29.
  • 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 Monday, August 30.
So if the above sounds good to you, let the entering begin!

Monday, August 16, 2010

August Book Giveaway Winner!

The winner of Star in the Forest by Laura Resau is: Kimberly!

You have 30 days to claim your prize, Kimberly. No later than September 16, 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!

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Micro-Trends in Fiction?

Enter the drawing for Star in the Forest by Laura Resau by midnight August 15! Scroll down one. :)

Writers can't help but look at trends in fiction, even though we're often cautioned not to chase trends as we write. The types of trends we usually mean are those of genre and structure: Is dystopian rising? Is YA paranormal about over? Can I hope to sell a historical in this market? Does my YA have to be in first person? Can I use present tense in MG? These might be called macro trends. But I've been noticing small, micro, trends too. Have you ever read a number of books in a row and, different though they may be, they all do an obvious something? Two related examples I've found recently:

First, the "heavily dependent on another book/author" trend, found in When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead (A Wrinkle in Time), Mockingbird by Kathryn Erskine (To Kill a Mockingbird),Also Known as Harper by Ann Haywood Leal (Harper Lee, Hemingway, Flannery O'Connor), and Bruiser by Neal Shusterman (Tennyson and at least one Bronte). I know some ideas seem to "float out there in the spirit" and more than one writer can "catch" them, but I wonder -- is this an attempt to shore up a type of literacy we're afraid kids are losing? I don't know that it's deliberate didacticism, but authors make their choices for a reason. I'm curious about that reason. And I'm not sure how I feel about this trend. I like all the books I've named above, but, particularly when it's another novel that's featured (or a poorly educated mom who just happens to love major American authors), there's something about the dependence that subtracts. Any thoughts?

Second, a recent penchant for vocabulary building.Reference again Mockingbird, whose MC, ten-year-old Caitlin, is going through bereavement, has Asperger's, and her best friend is the dictionary; Bruiser, in which the parents, both literature professors, have alternated giving one vocabulary-building word a day to their kids all their lives; and also Love Puppies and Corner Kicks, by RW Krech, in which soccer-playing Andrea often has her nose in her favorite book (hmm, not unlike trend #1): Word Power: Enhancing and Extending Your Vocabulary. Using vocabulary words and pronunciations/meanings as chapter titles is a fairly common, though not universal, feature of these books.

Any ideas about what's going on? Have you noticed any other micro-trends in recent books you've read? Have you found any you'd like to continue? :)

Thursday, August 5, 2010

August Book Giveaway

Star in the Forest by Laura Resau: When eleven-year-old Zitlally's father is stopped for speeding, discovered to be illegal and deported to Mexico, life becomes harder than ever for her family. Mama, always worried, must work all the time to support her and her sisters. Zitlally gradually makes friends with neighbor Crystal, a girl who makes up wild stories to cope with problems of her own, and together they adopt Star, a skinny abandoned dog they find chained up in the "forest" surrounding their trailer park -- which is not trees but heaps of rusted car parts. But the dog is more than just a friend and comfort. Zitlally comes to believe he's a special animal like the ones from Papa's stories, an animal whose fate is tied to a human's. In this case, Papa's. When Star disappears, the two girls must find and save him because Zitlally is certain this will mean a favorable outcome for Papa as well. This well-written book would make a good classroom choice and is truly accessible to mid-graders. Includes a note about Mexico-to-US immigration and two glossaries.

To be entered in the drawing:
  • Comment on this post anytime from now through Sunday, August 15.
  • 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.
Winner will be announced Monday, August 16.

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