Thursday, August 25, 2011

Wedding Pictures!

Today is the second wedding month-iversary for our son and his lovely bride, so what better day to post some photos? The entire wedding day couldn't have been more perfect. Blessings abound...
                                                   Is he happy or what?
                                             He's happy, and here's why.


                                   A bit of creative (small town) photography
                                                   The happy couple

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Revision Spreadsheet

Recently, I was blessed to have seven people read my MG novel and give feedback. (You are all awesome!) Then I discovered something. I'd never had more than three betas read a manuscript before. Organizing and managing feedback from seven people is more challenging than processing feedback from just three. Most of the readers agreed on the main points, but each also made comments unique to him- or herself. I knew that going through the ms. seven times from start to finish wouldn't be efficient, and could result in doing rewrites that would only be canceled out later when a suggestion I liked better came along. After a moment's thought, I turned to my spreadsheet program.

I highlighted the points from each beta reader's letter (did I mention these people are awesome?) that were major, that were important-minor, and anything else I agreed with. Then I listed the points in rows on the spreadsheet. This way, everything was mentioned, but mentioned once only. I assigned each reader a column, and put her or his name in the intersecting cell if they had brought up that point. When the spreadsheet was done, I could see at a glance, on one sheet, what needed to be addressed and which points were the most important, i.e., the ones with the most mentions.

I'm sure I'm hardly the first to try this method. Have you used it? Have you discovered/invented any other writing tips lately?

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Interview with Author Bobbie Pyron

Two weeks ago, I talked about Bobbie Pyron's wonderful middle-grade novel, A Dog's Way Home. Today, I have the privilege of interviewing Bobbie on this blog! Read on to hear what she has to say about authors she admires, the freedom to write what you want, the need for research in fiction, and, that big question: Plotter or Pantser?

MH: Bobbie, it's pretty much a given that writers are readers. What kinds of books do you most like to read?

BP: I've always been a voracious reader. I most like to read books that are character-driven and have characters that are complex yet very believable. I also love beautiful writing. I don't tend to read what's popular with everyone else. 

MH: Who are some authors you admire, especially MG/YA, and why?

BP: Being a librarian and a writer, I admit to having very strong opinions about books and writers! Alice Hoffman, Anne Patchett, Kate DiCamillo, Cynthia Rylant, Sharon Creech, Sonya Hartnett, and Julia Glass, just to name a few. I have such admiration for writers who are willing to take a risk, whether that's writing something completely different from what they're "known" for, or choosing a particular subject matter, or not following the latest trend. For instance, I have tremendous respect for Libba Bray because she doesn't allow herself to get pigeonholed. I also greatly respect authors like Chris Crutcher, Sherman Alexie, Cheryl Rainfield, Ellen Hopkins, and Laurie Halse Anderson for writing about tough subjects with grace and humor, and Gary Schmidt, Kate DiCamillo, Barbara O'Connor and many more who write heartfelt, compassionate books that actually show the best in people.

MH: Sometimes new writers are surprised to learn that fiction (other than historical) requires research. What kind of research did you do for A Dog's Way Home?

BP: I did a TON of research! Even though I know dogs, and shelties in particular, it was important to me to check facts such as what colors they can actually see. I also wanted to make sure that, if a coyote kills a porcupine in a particular way, that's actually the way it would happen. I read books about the flora and fauna of the Blue Ridge Parkway. I have a horror of some kid reading my book who lives in that particular place and being disappointed because I "got it wrong." For Tam's route home, I had a map of the Blue Ridge Parkway in front of me at all times. I respect my readers too much to let the facts slide just because it's fiction, and especially because they're "just kids."

MH: Plotter or pantser? Have you ever tried the opposite method?

BP: Oh, totally a pantser! I usually have a pretty good idea of the beginning, middle, end, and core conflict when I start. But I like to leave myself lots of room to be surprised and to see where the characters take me. I don't outline before I start. What my agent taught me to do, however, is outline AFTER the first draft is done. I go through chapter by chapter and write down the main things that happen in each. Outlining that way allows me to see "dead zones" -- places where nothing happens to advance the plot or characterization. I also get a bird's eye view of story arc. I highly recommend this technique to even the most hardcore pantser.

MH: Your "Fido and Friends in Five" blog series is cool! Would you say a few words about it?
BP: I'd love to! My editor for A Dog's Way Home, Molly O' Neill, really wanted me to blog after the release of the book in March. I, however, am not a natural blogger. We were brainstorming ideas on how to focus the blog so I didn't feel like I was just saying "Yay me" in every post. We came up with the idea of interviewing other authors about their dogs. I've been amazed by the authors who've been happy to talk about their dogs on my blog -- folks like Kathi Appelt, Gary Schmidt, Patricia MacLachlan, Lisa Yee, Katherine Erskine, Pete Hautman, Marilyn Singer, just to name a few.

MH: It sounds like you've provided them a great outlet to talk about their dogs, Bobbie! Your first novel, The Ring, is a YA about boxing, and A Dog's Way Home targets a different audience. You've mentioned that you admire authors who don't let themselves become pigeonholed. But so many authors have heard they should be concerned about branding. Can you comment a bit on career strategy?
BP: Ha! You assume I have a career strategy! I think for me (maybe because I'm an old hippie), I have a real fear of being "branded" as a certain kind of writer. I write the stories that insist on being told. My trick has been to find an agent and editor who will let me write these stories and trust me. I have a quote pinned on my bulletin board in my room where I write from Sonya Hartnett, an author I greatly admire. It reads in part, "I write whatever comes to me, and I write whatever the book requires. My first responsibility is to the work."

MH: You have a new book coming in the fall of 2012. What can you tell us about it?

BP: The working title is Mercy's Bone, and my sense is that it's for grades 6 and up. It's a fictionalized account of a true story: After the fall of the Soviet Union, there were tens of thousands of homeless children living on the streets of Moscow and St. Petersburg. This is the story of one of those children. Talk about research! I researched for years before I felt ready to write it. I'm very excited that the book will be published by Arthur A. Levine Books, and edited by Arthur himself!

MH: Can you give us any hints on WIPs?
BP: Oh, I have lots of voices banging around in my head. I have written about half a MG novel set in Florida, about a boy who gets struck by lightning and lives. I was born and raised in the Florida panhandle, so it's been fun to write about a place I know so intimately and fondly. It was really nice to go from writing about the bitter cold of Russia to the warmth of the Gulf of Mexico!

Thanks so much, Bobbie, for allowing us this peek into your life as a writer. You've really shown us how stories can be found in many different aspects of one person's life! Your breadth as a writer, too, is admirable. :)

Thursday, August 4, 2011

E-books: Out of Sight, Out of Mind?

I don't have an e-reader, and I should probably qualify that with the word "yet." I do have several e-books on my PC. I read one of them promptly and quickly because I had agreed to write a review. The others? Haven't read Word One, even though I'm a voracious reader and am interested in these books' topics. Why haven't I even started reading them? Because they're on my computer rather than toppling off my nightstand. Were the latter the case, I'd have finished them months ago. On my computer, they're not calling, "Read me." On my computer, I've got too many other priorities that come first. But the "read me" thing is really the bottom line: Because the books are on my computer, I keep forgetting I have them.

It seems an e-reader would solve this. An e-reader is dedicated for reading, and the device is as much a visual prompt as a physical book is. But here's my question: Can't individual books get lost in this vast e-library? When you pick up an e-reader, you're picking up hundreds or someday thousands of books all at once, if you've owned it awhile and are an avid reader. Surely you can just plain forget some of them, even though they're as present and available as all the others. Yes, physical libraries also contain forgotten or unread books. But a physical book has a chance to call, "Read me!" in a way that an e-book doesn't. For me, so far at least, e-books are "out of sight, out of mind."

As an aside, a couple of weeks ago I read a column by a college-age young man in our local paper. To my surprise, he listed e-books as one of "life's little annoyances." He said he already spends plenty of time with his computer, TV, and smartphone, and doesn't want another screen, thank you very much. Most people's reply to this objection is that an e-reader isn't the same because you can choose a model that doesn't have a backlit screen. But I'm not so sure this is answering people's concerns. Or that we should assume the young won't want physical books. None of my young adult kids or their spouses, five out of six of them readers, are interested in e-books. Not one.

What has your experience been? Do you think e-books are easier to forget or ignore than print books?

Monday, August 1, 2011

July Critique Giveaway Winners! says the winners of this month's critique giveaway are: Erin Liles and Cat!

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.
  • Deadline to submit is August 17.
  • When I receive your email, I'll acknowledge receipt and let you know when you can expect my response.
Congratulations to Erin and Cat, 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...