Thursday, April 28, 2011

April Book Pick -- Poppy and Ereth, by Avi

April critique giveaway open through May 1! Scroll down one post.

Poppy and Ereth is the fifth and final MG novel in The Dimwood Forest series by prolific author Avi. The hardcover was published in 2009, but the paperback has only been out a month. One thing I really admire about Avi is his range. Contemporary, historical, animal fantasy--he does them all well.

Eons ago when I first read Watership Down, I realized I enjoy animal fantasy. Upbeat Poppy the mouse and irascible Ereth the porcupine (with a heart of gold, of course) are truly a duo. Though Poppy may be the main main character, Ereth would steal the show if Poppy weren't as well portrayed as she is. My favorite aspect of this book is Ereth's alliterative, humorous expletives. But here's what I really love: How the humor of Ereth's expressions crescendos and climaxes in partnership with the plot tension.  When Ereth was awakened from a deep sleep and muttered, "Growling gingersnaps," it was cute. When he learned the grieving Poppy didn't want to see him and moaned, "Dancing doorknobs," I giggled. When he tried to eat a leafless, dry twig for breakfast and grumbled, "Octopus ink ice cream! It needs salt, too," I laughed. When he despaired over the need for rain and bleated, "Spider snot soup!" I was chortling again. But when he ran to the creek, leaped before he looked, began to drown, and screamed "Barbecued buzzard barf!" my husband had to come see what all the hilarity was about.

Despite all this humor, the book is about grief. Poppy is grieving a loss, and Ereth grieves her withdrawal from him. When she hears his cries and comes to saves him from the creek, Ereth is glad to have her back, only to fear he's lost her for good when a funny mishap makes him think she has died and he's seeing her ghost. Poppy died rescuing him, he believes, and now he's grieving a death, too. Adventures, surprises, and reconciliation abound, along with wonderful illustrations by Brian Floca, especially of Ereth. You may want to start the series at the beginning, but this book can be read on its own. Recommended!

Thursday, April 21, 2011

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).
  • For additional entries, post links to this contest and give the URLs.
  • You may enter one ms. per month. No one person can win both critiques in a single month.
  • Include your email in the comment. But if not, be sure to check back to see if you've won!
  • Enter now through Sunday, May 1.
  • 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.
  • 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, May 2.
So if the above sounds good to you, let the entering begin!

Monday, April 18, 2011

April Book Giveaway Winner! says the winner of the autographed, personalized copy of Seaglass Summer by Anjali Banerjee is: Nora MacFarlane!

You have 30 days to claim your prize, Nora. No later than May 18, 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, April 14, 2011

Premise vs. Theme

I've been thinking about premise and theme lately, and found that I need to think deeper. One of the most rewarding things about writing is that it's never boring and you never learn it all, even after you've learned it. I mean, I know what "premise" is, right? It's a story's central idea, a setup or "what if" that snags the reader and makes her say, "Yeah, I want to read this and see how it plays out." The premise of, say, Romeo and Juliet might go like this: "What if a son and daughter from two enemy families fall in love?

But is that really a premise? By some definitions, maybe not. Another definition, more steeped in the study of logic, goes like this: Premise is a statement assumed to be true and used to draw a conclusion. It's a presupposition, assumption, or postulate. More specifically applied to story, it's a statement of what happens to your characters as a result of the plot, which your story sets out to illustrate.

Which is an interesting point of view. Math major though I may have been, my definition of story premise has always been more in the first camp, the what-if question.  So what is premise? A question, or a statement? Does a premise include the ending, or  doesn't it? By the statement definition, the premise of Romeo and Juliet might be "Stubborn feuds or prejudices lead to tragedy." The statement contains "what happens to your characters"--tragedy--and the what-if question does not. If it's correct to say that the statement is the story's premise, then we can't know a story's premise when we first pick it up to read it. We can only know the premise when we know the end. I'm going to have to chew on that a little more before I buy it. If I buy it. Perhaps both kinds of premise are useful: the question as the public one, the hook; and the statement as a private one, a guide for the writer.

Both viewpoints agree that a story has one premise. But it can have multiple themes. Speaking of which: doesn't that second view of premise, in the preceding paragraph, sound an awful lot like theme? "Stubborn feuds or prejudices lead to tragedy"? If that's not theme, then what's a theme? We often hear statements such as "This book explores themes of love and loss, friendship and courage, sacrifice and honor..." and I say No. These aren't themes. These are subjects. Themes say something about a novel's subjects, and we don't have control of our work if we don't know what that "about" is. Let's go back to Romeo and Juliet. Does it explore themes of passion, labeling or stereotyping, friends and enemies, and communication? I think it explores those subjects, and makes theme statements about them.

Subject: Passion
Theme: Quick passions lead to hasty decisions.

Subject: Friends/enemies
Theme: Our enemies may not be our enemies.

Subject: Communication
Theme: Miscommunication leads to disaster.

What do you think? What's a subject? Theme? Premise? Does your brain hurt as much as mine does? :)

    Thursday, April 7, 2011

    April Book Giveaway

    Author Anjali Banerjee will autograph a personalized bookplate to the winner!

    Eleven-year-old Poppy, the protagonist of Seaglass Summer by Anjali Banerjee, wants to be a veterinarian like her Uncle Sanjay. Too bad her mother is allergic to anything with fur and Poppy has never had a pet. So this summer, instead of accompanying her parents to visit relatives in India, Poppy travels from LA to an island off the coast of Washington State, armed with her Deluxe Veterinarian First-Aid Kit, to be Uncle Sanjay's helper at his Furry Friends Animal Clinic.

    The episodic chapters serve this type of story well. The book is sweet without sugar-coating the sometimes gross and sad realities of pet health care, and without skirting issues such as disagreement by Uncle Sanjay's father with Sanjay's career choice. Multicultural without making multiculturalism the issue, enriched with lovely setting details, the novel will greatly interest animal lovers. Poppy is a conscientious, appealing girl who learns that growing up isn't instantaneous, that dreams don't always match reality, but that she can do more than she thought, too.

    To be entered in the drawing:
    • Comment on this post anytime from now through Sunday, April 17.
    • For an additional entry, become a follower of this blog and mention that in the comment. Ditto if you already are a follower.
    • For additional entries, post links to this contest and give the URLs.
    Winner will be announced Monday, April 18.

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