Thursday, March 29, 2012

March Critique Giveaway Winners! says the winners of the March critique giveaway are:  Annie McMahon and Sarah Ahiers!

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 "Critique winner" in the subject line.
  • Deadline to submit is April 18.
  • When I receive your email, I'll acknowledge receipt and let you know when you can expect my response.
Congratulations to Annie and Sarah, and thank you all so much for stopping by and entering. Wishing you all a great day in the world of books...

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Sort of a Book Blurb + Sort of Math = Weird Post

March critique giveaway open through March 28! Scroll down one post.

I usually post about MG books here, or books that ride the line between MG and YA. But that doesn't mean I don't read YA. One of my favorite authors is, in fact, the YA writer John Green. Not because I like all of his books equally well (I don't, actually), but because as far as the sheer intelligence of his writing, and his ability to convey things I thought only I thought, I can't remember when I've encountered his like. I'll at least pick up anything he writes; that is for sure.

I recently read his newest novel, The Fault in Our Stars. And it. Is. Brilliant. This year, his (next) Printz may very well come.

However. The book says something that makes what's left of my mathematical mind (which has languished over three or so decades) shudder: That some infinities are bigger than others. That, for example, there are more numbers (not speaking solely of integers, but of all possible rationals and irrationals) between, say, zero and a million than between zero and one.

No, there aren't.

And here I'd really like to diverge from any direct comment on the novel. This is really no longer about the novel. It's just the compulsion that still arises within me every now and then to speak my mathematical piece.

No, some infinities are not bigger than others. Such a notion doesn't make sense. Between zero and one lies an infinite number of fractions and decimals, almost all of them irrational, or non-repeating decimals. 0.5039285715790432... and on and on; you get the picture. No pattern to them. This means there's always another one. And another one. And one more. And yet one more.

For every such number, for any number at all, that lies between zero and a million, you can find one that lies between zero and one to pair with it in a one-to-one correspondence. You will never run out of numbers between zero and one, any more than you'll run out of numbers between zero and a trillion bazillion.

And this is just one of the things that make math, and creation, amazingly cool.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

March Critique Giveaway

It's critique time. Enter to win!
  • I will critique TWO manuscripts. "Manuscript" means the first 1000 words of your children's magazine story, chapter book, MG novel, or YA novel.
  • No picture books, easy readers, poetry, or nonfiction.
  • Just comment on this post and state that you wish to enter.
  • Extra entries for following, Facebooking, tweeting, blogging, etc.
  • Include your email, OR check back to see if you've won!
  • Contest extended: Enter now through Wednesday, March 28.
  • Please, no stories that you intend to enter in an ICL Children's Writer contest.
  • Winners announced Thursday, March 29.
Let the entering begin!

Thursday, March 8, 2012

When Your Reader Says, "I Don't Believe it!"

Plausibility is a huge consideration in fiction. We're already asking people to read something we know and they know didn't actually happen, and since they're doing so willingly, they'll suspend disbelief to a point and even accept fantasy elements. Yet, if they just can't buy the premise, or the emotional reactions, or some of the plot events, they're often pulled out of the story to the point where they can't be recaptured. I think that's because, for those readers, the story is no longer fulfilling one of the great functions of fiction: To give shape and meaning to life and help tease out truth. Life can be random; fiction cannot, or it loses value. (Just as an aside, I think another great function of fiction is to nurture compassion and a sense of connection to others.)

There are times, though, that we use in our stories events that might make readers skeptical. Here are some ways I've found to make the implausible more plausible in fiction.
  • If your premise is too weird or far out to be believed, postpone it. Open the book with related tension --- but not the full low-down --- that keeps building while at the same time deeply investing us in the character(s). Work in any necessary knowledge or background (history or science, for example) that will be needed for the reader to buy the premise, as the tension- and character-building continue. When the far-out premise is finally revealed, readers will hopefully be so emotionally in tune with the characters (their fear will be the readers' fear, for example), and so prepared by the groundwork, that they will accept the big reveal. Examples: Unwind by Neal Shusterman; The Aviary by Kathleen O'Dell.
  • An aspect of the above: Make a believer out of your MC. Then make readers believe in your MC. Or vice-versa. This will help readers believe what the MC believes.
  • At the same time, try making one character a disbeliever. Let that character voice all the objections to the implausible aspect that you'd expect readers to voice. Readers feel a lot better when they know you know something's fishy, and will often cut you some slack if a character is saying the things they wish they could say. Then let other characters either prove the disbeliever wrong, admit he might be right, or take his objections into account when planning the next action. I think it was children's author Sid Fleischman who said, "If you can't cut the implausible element, point to it."
  • To make a villain believably scary, make sure he holds a valid point. If he's right in some way, that's scary. Also identify something good about him. Does he love his mom? Make him human. Is he a gifted musician? Make him normal. Does he love ice cream and forget to empty his pockets before he washes his jeans? Reveal some background that creates sympathy for him. The abusive man in Kathi Appelt's The Underneath broke my heart because of how he'd been treated as a little boy.
  • If you're using an unlikely event in your story, list as many reason as you can why such a thing could not happen. Then look at each obstacle in turn, and work out at least one reason why this obstacle will not prevent the event. 
Have you had to "sell" an implausible aspect of a story? How did you do it?

Thursday, March 1, 2012

March Book Pick -- The Aviary, by Kathleen O'Dell

Twelve-year-old Clara Dooley has lived her whole life in the crumbling Glendoveer mansion. There, her mother is one of two servants to the kind, widowed, and aged Mrs. Glendoveer. Clara's mother, though a genuinely caring parent, forbids her to leave the mansion because her constitution is supposedly delicate due to a heart condition. It's not a bad life, and Clara adores Mrs. Glendoveer, but she does long for a friend, and the five distinctly different birds who live in the aviary out back, squawking as they do whenever Clara comes within eyeshot, are a tad creepy.

Mrs. Glendoveer has not had an easy life, and when she passes away Clara discovers that the Glendoveer family harbors many secrets -- which her mother seems to know all about but will not share. What Clara does learn is that Mrs. Glendoveer, as a young girl from a prominent family, had fallen head over heels for George Glendoveer, a famous magician, and been disowned by her family when they married. Worse, the Glendoveers suffered an unspeakable tragedy when their children were kidnapped, drowned under mysterious circumstances, and George Glendoveer was blamed. It's when she suspects the birds are more than mere birds (isn't the mynah shouting the name Elliott, the name of the youngest child?), secretly makes a friend with whom to partner, and longs to break free of her identity as the invalid shut-in that Clara plunges into a decades-old murder mystery.

For me, this book pushes a ton of good buttons. It's historical mystery, literary writing yet with a definite plot, one of those "sink down into it" stories. Just as some contemporary stories have a timeless feel, so does this historical novel, and that "timeless classic" tone is a huge favorite with me. The friendship between Clara and Daphne is dear, and there's a good amount of pranking and humor as the girls turn the tables on the bad guys.

There's just one thing: I figured out the big reveal, which comes somewhere around pp. 150-160 if memory serves, on p. 3. Occupational hazard, probably. But this did not stop me from reading the whole book, as I was already well hooked. Highly recommended.