THE CRITICS AND THE CRITICIZED: OR, SHOULD WRITERS WRITE REVIEWS?

I’m very excited to have Shana Mlawski, author of Hammer of Witches, here today. Hammer of Witches, a fantasy set during Columbus’ westward voyage, is fantastic and unique and I highly recommend it!

But Shana isn’t talking about her new book today (which you should totally read!).  Shane also blogs over at Overthinkingit.com, which is an awesome website where pop culture is looked at through a variety of lenses (mostly critical).  Plus, she includes infographics in many of her entries and I have an infographic obsession!  So today Shana is here to talk about the intersection between her life as a writer and her life as a pop culture critic.  And it’s a fascinating read!

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THE CRITICS AND THE CRITICIZED: OR, SHOULD WRITERS WRITE REVIEWS?

What is the relationship between authors and critics? Should writers adjust their work to please reviewers, and what happens when critics try to write fiction themselves?

I’ve been thinking a lot about these questions lately, and not just because my first book, HAMMER OF WITCHES, was recently put out into the world to be judged. (Irrelevant side note: The reviews are pretty good.) The thing is, *I’m* a critic. Some of you might know me not for this book but for my pieces on OverthinkingIt.com, a blog full of pop culture criticism. During my tenure as an Overthinking It staff writer, I’ve criticized the idea of strong female characters, the philosophy behind Christopher Nolan’s Batman films, books that have the word “daughter” in the title , and every episode of LOST. If I have any fame whatsoever, it comes from being a critic.

But what happens when someone who has spent her life criticizing other people’s work tries to create her own works of art?

In my case, the answer to that question is, “She sits down and has a long think.”

FIVE TYPES OF INTERNET CRITICISM

Criticism can hurt. We’re not supposed to say that, because we’re supposed to have thick skin, and the millions of rejections I’ve gotten over the years have certainly thickened mine. Nevertheless, criticisms hurt, and when they do I feel guilty about all the times I’ve criticized other people’s work. Then I vow never to criticize again.

Silly vow, ain’t it? Criticism is fine—at least, some kinds of criticism are, sometimes. And, yes, there are different kinds of criticism. I’m no literary theorist, so instead of quoting Michel Foucault or Harold Bloom, I made a chart:

mlawski-internetcriticism

As you can see, I’ve listed the five main types of literary criticism we see on the Internet. The first three are reviews you see on Goodreads, Amazon, book blogs, Roger Ebert’s old website, and so on. Snarky, balanced, and obsessed-fan reviewers write for different audiences and for different reasons. Some have commerce in mind (“I want to help people decide whether or not they should buy this”). Some have community in mind (“I want to share my love with other fans and bring new people into the fandom”). Some have entertainment and their own ego in mind (“I’m want to make people laugh”), and some have the author’s ego in mind (“I’m going to cut her down to size”/“I’m going to show her how much I love her”).

In those first three kinds of Internet criticism, star ratings count. But there are two more types of criticism where star ratings are irrelevant. Writers of Internet-based New Criticism assume the reviewed work is great and everyone already agrees it’s great. Here, the critic’s job is not to judge but analyze and deepen the fans’ reading of the text by noticing symbols, themes, allusions, and other literary techniques. Most blog posts about Mad Men fall under this heading. The critic usually assumes that everyone agrees Mad Men is amazing and that everything in each episode was placed there with care by Matt Weiner and the other writers. The purpose of the review is to gather around the digital watercooler and pick apart why one episode was named “The Collaborators,” why Don Draper was reading Dante’s Inferno, and why it was symbolic that Betty dyed her hair black. In this way, the critic deepens our enjoyment of the text.

The last kind of literary criticism is the postmodern kind. Here, critics can view the text from a political angle. They may question Game of Thrones’ imperialism or praise its feminism. They might criticize Girls for its overwhelming whiteness or The Big Bang Theory for the way it treats autism. These last two types of criticism are the kinds I write for Overthinking It.

WHAT’S AN AUTHOR TO DO?

Once I realized I was conflating five different things and calling them all “criticism,” my question changed from, “Should I stop writing criticism now that I’m an author?” to “Which kinds of criticism should we write, and how?”

The answer depends on who we’re trying to help.

I’m an author now, so mainly I want to help other authors, so I’m going to try really, really hard not to write any more snarky reviews. These reviews can be a blast to write and read, and they might help someone make a purchasing decision. But they’re often unfair. Strip everything away from a snarky review, and what’s left is, “This text is bad and you should feel bad” Except, “This text is objectively bad” usually means “I didn’t like it for some personal reason.” The reason can be innocuous—e.g., the writer used the present tense and you hate the present tense—but sometimes it’s based on prejudices and cruelty. Some reviewers approach certain books with extreme skepticism and give their authors no benefit of the doubt because of the author’s race, gender, sexuality, age, or some other factor that has nothing to do with his or her skill as a writer. This kind of criticism needs to be called out by other readers. We reviewers also need to consider our own unconscious biases when we start to unload the snark on a possibly-undeserving author.

What about fair and balanced reviews? They seem more useful to authors, because they’re said to offer constructive, rather than destructive, criticism. However, in my experience, these reviews aren’t really constructive to authors at all, because they tend to contradict one another. One reviewer loves the main character; one hates him. One loved the prose; one hated the prose. One was moved to tears; one felt nothing. Unless 90% of the reviewers make the same exact comment, this type of criticism will not help an author improve his or her craft. But fair, well-written reviews help authors in a different way. Reviewing a book puts it on readers’ radar, so your balanced review acts as a form of advertising. So if you’re a reader and you want to support an author, write a fair review for one of the major websites. It helps!

As for gushing reviews: they’re nice for a quick ego boost and a smile, but they won’t help me improve my craft, either. (I appreciate the ego boosts, though! Thanks!) That said, I’ll never give up writing gushing reviews myself. Sometimes you need to express your love for a work of art. Unrelated: Has everyone here watched Slings and Arrows yet? OMG it’s amazing! Funny, clever, wonderful for Shakespeare fans and even more wonderful for artists. Mark McKinney’s in it! And Rachel McAdams! It’s on Netflix! Go watch it now!

Writing New Criticism is fun, and so is reading it. I can’t imagine analyzing the symbolism of a writer’s work actually helps the writer improve his or her craft, but it helps readers enjoy the text more, and there’s nothing wrong with that. Anyway, my editor at Overthinking It will flip out at me if I give up this type of criticism. I promised I’d do video recaps of Game of Thrones and Mad Men every week.

The one type of criticism we should never give up is the postmodern kind. I can’t. I can’t shut off my brain when I’m reading or watching something. Let’s say I’m watching a comedy, for instance, and there’s a rape “joke.” I’m not NOT going to notice it. It’s not that I’m looking for sexism; it’s that the movie features some sexism. I’m going to point it out in my reviews in the hopes that writers stop writing sexist things and that audiences stop enjoying them. This type of criticism can truly be called constructive, as long as it’s fair. I like to give authors some benefit of the doubt and assume they’re at least trying to write in good faith. After all, criticizing is easy. Creating is hard.

What do you think? Should critics risk becoming authors? Should authors risk writing criticism? If so, what kind? I’d love to hear what you have to say in the comments.

Full STEAM Ahead with Eliot Schrefer, author of Endangered

Full STEAM Ahead

The past summer, I read Eliot Schrefer’s Endangered in one sitting.  (My review here). I’ve been thinking about it ever since, so when I decided to query authors for Full STEAM Ahead, Eliot immediately jumped to mind.  The research he conducted for the book took him all the way to a bonobo sanctuary in the Democratic Republic of Congo.  You can’t get more hands-on in science than sitting amongst the bonobos and interacting with them and their caretakers! And what I really love is that the story began with Eliot researching where the name of his favorite store, Bonobos, originated.  Talk about real-life applications of research!

Eliot contributed some Q and A about the way science influenced his writing.  Specifically, he is here today to talk about the time he spent at Lola ya Bonobo Sanctuary in the Democratic Republic of Congo.  He has even shared some video clips of the time he spent at the sanctuary!

Q: Did you make any surprising observations about bonobos at the Lola ya Bonobo sanctuary?

A: One thing I discovered while I was at the Lola ya Bonobo sanctuary in the Democratic Republic of Congo was that the orphans really don’t like men. I’m a smaller guy, so they didn’t mind me too much, but whenever I had an orphan on my lap and one of the larger men on the staff—a gardener or a guard—would come over, the orphan would immediately be on his feet and crying for her surrogate mother to come over and hold her.

Of course, it was mostly likely men who came into the forest and killed that orphan’s mother. The young creatures receive so much love at the sanctuary, and have such a good time playing with one another, that it’s easy to forget where they all came from. But the immediate, visceral fear on an orphan’s face in the company of men made it all come back. They are 98.7% human, and extraordinarily sensitive. They’re as likely to forget about losing a parent as we would be.

Esperance Tsona and Anne-Marie Ngalula, surrogate mother and nurse, respectively, at Lola ya bonobo, Kinshasa. (Video taken by Eliot Schrefer.)

 

Q: Did it concern you to write about animal welfare in a country with so much human suffering?

A: Jane Goodall, who no doubt gets asked this question all the time, wrote a wonderfully articulate response in her memoir, Through a Window:

Often I am asked whether I do not feel that it is unethical to devote time to the welfare of ‘animals’ when so many human beings are suffering. Would it not be more appropriate to help starving children, battered wives, the homeless? Fortunately, there are hundreds of people addressing their considerable talents, humanitarian principles and fund-raising abilities to such causes. My own particular energies are not needed there. Cruelty is surely the very worst of human sins. To fight cruelty, in any shape or form— whether it be towards other human beings or non-human beings—brings us into direct conflict with that unfortunately streak of inhumanity that lurks in all of us. If only we could overcome cruelty with compassion we should be well on the way to creating a new and boundless ethic—one that would respect all living beings. We should stand at the threshold of a new era in human evolution—the realization, at last, of our most unique quality: humanity.

I feel like being a sensitive adult leading an examined life entails a low level of guilt— this nagging feeling that we’re not doing enough to help others, that there’s so much to be improved but no clear way to help. Normally that guilt can be ignored, but it’s brought to the surface when we face suffering directly. One of the ways to hide that guilt back away is to say that some sufferings are outranked by others and can therefore can be ignored. But that’s a sure route to not doing anything about any of them. At some point you have to trust in compassion and the support of others, that someone else might take care of the rest of the world’s woes if I help this specific creature in front of me.

Bonobos also serve as the ambassadors for a number of less adorable species. Congo has one-eighth of the world’s forests.1 By protecting them for the sake of the bonobos and chimpanzees and gorillas, we’re also protecting the insect, amphibian, reptile, plant, and mammal species that reside there. Benefitted, as well, are the tribes that live within the forests and steward a huge plant biomass that tempers global warming.

Bonobos at the Lola ya Bonobo sanctuary, outside of Kinshasa, using rocks to crack nuts. Video shot by Eliot Schrefer.

1Wolfire, D.M., J. Brunner and N. Sizer (1998) Forests and the Democratic Republic of Congo. World Resources Institute, Washington, DC.

I love that Eliot Schrefer devoted so much time to the biology and zoology of the bonobos, determined to get it right for the book. It was certainly worth it!  I knew very little about bonobos before reading Endangered, but I haven’t been able to stop thinking about them since  I finished reading it.  The science and research aspects are so realistic and I imagine they will inspire many readers to learn more about the great apes.  Maybe Endangered will even guide some readers into conservation or zoology!  How great would that be- students reading about math, science, or engineering and then jumping into a career inspired by that reading!

But even if the reader doesn’t become a zoologist or an environmental scientist, Schrefer’s book (and the story behind the book) will bring the bonobos to the forefront in many readers’ minds.  STEM may seem like an overused buzzword, but it is vital that our students understand the world around them.  Reading about bonobos, an endangered species, will hopefully inspire our students to protect the world they will one day inherit.  And understanding science and conservation is vital to being someone those in charge listen to.  As English teachers, we can introduce our students to STEM, compassion, and empathy at the same time.

Be sure to check in next Thursday, when another author will be sharing their experiences with STEM and how it may have influenced their writing!

Breadcrumbs Blog Tour- Interview with Anne Ursu

Anne, thank you so much for agreeing to be interviewed on TheReadingZone blog. I am currently a high school teacher (former middle school teacher), so I don’t read a lot of middle grade novels these days. However, I have been sharing Breadcrumbs with EVERYONE I know. On the first day of school I gave my ARC to one rising sophomore, with a waiting list after her. I know it will be a big hit with my students. I am dying to know what inspired the book. Did the characters come first, or was it the story?

Thank you so much; I’m so happy to hear that! I love that older kids are reading the book. I think reading levels should always begin with a number and end with the words “and up.”

I was actually inspired originally by the fairy tale of “The Snow Queen.” I’d never read it as a child, and when I finally did I was struck by the story of a boy and a girl who are best friends until, one day, the boy changes. This happens all the time when you’re a kid—you lose friends as you grow. But in this case, the girl decides she’s going to get her friend back. I loved that.

Have you always loved fairy tales? Did you find it easier or harder to write with the fairy tale world in mind? In other words, did you feel the already-created worlds fenced you in, or did they leave you free to write even more?

I adored fairy tales when I was young. I had this anthology of Grimm that was my dad’s from when he was a kid, and I read it over and over. I can still remember what that book felt like in my hands. This might be why I think “woods” when I think fairy-tale-world.

When I first read “The Snow Queen,” I actually thought I wouldn’t be able to do a retelling because the adventures Gerda goes on when she’s trying to find Kai are pretty random, and I just didn’t find them that interesting. It was some time before I remembered that part of the deal of writing fiction is you get to do whatever you want.  The fantasy world in Breadcrumbs could have been anything, really—and I decided it would be a fairy-tale world with an Anderson-like feel to it. But I still got to do whatever I wanted in the world—sample from fairy tales and myth, and write my own fairy tales,
too. It was very freeing in the long run.

What was it like to reference so many classic, well-loved books? Did you include your own favorites? And what is your all-time favorite children’s book?

The references to other books came pretty naturally—I knew I wanted Hazel to be a reader, that she would interpret her world through books she’s read, because those stories are really part of the fabric of her universe, and a part of how she connects with other people. And of course this meant that Hazel would really be interpreting her world through books I read and loved. Some were favorites from when I was a kid—A Wrinkle in Time, The Phantom Tollbooth. Others are books I love now, like The Golden Compass, When You Reach Me, The Wall and the Wing, and of course Harry Potter.

As for my all-time favorite book, that’s a great question. I have one shelf of books that I saved from when I was a kid—on it are some of the Little House books, Betsy-Tacy, Noel Streatfeild’s Shoes books, A Wrinkle in Time, Understood Betsy, and all of the Anne of Green Gables books. I think Anne of Green Gables probably has to be my life-long favorite, and has certainly formed how I interpret my world. Anne Shirley knew what was important: finding kindred spirits, places that had scope for the imagination, and, of course, spelling your name with an “e.”

Yes!  Anne and I are kindred spirits.  I am a huge fan of L.M. Montgomery.  My Anne and Emily books are some of my most prized possessions!

How do you write? Are you an outliner or a fly-by-the-seat of your pants writer?

By the seat of your pants is the only way to fly! I wish I were an outliner—I think it would save me a lot of time. But I tend to figure out a story by writing it. Sometimes this works, and everything falls into place. Sometimes it’s a disaster. The original draft of The Siren Song, the second book in my trilogy, was a lumpy, sad wreck of a thing, and after I handed in the draft to my editor I’d wake up in the middle of the night with anxiety attacks. During one of these middle-of-the-night sessions I finally figured out how to fix the book—and it involved deleting and completely rewriting the first 200 pages. Which I did. You would think this would be enough to get me to outline. But if you keep learning from experience, how could you ever repeat the same mistakes?

So true!  Now for the most important question: what is your favorite writing snack?

Popcorn. Airpopped, shellacked in I-Can’t-Believe-It’s-Not-Butter spray and salt. It’s the key to my productivity. At least that’s what I tell myself.

Anne, thank you so much for taking the time to speak with me!  I hope we hear a lot more about Breadcrumbs over the next few months!

On Tuesday, 10/4 at 8pm EDT  Anne Ursu (@anneursu) and Bigger than a Bread Box author Laurel Snyder (@LaurelSnyder) will participate in a chat hosted by the incomparable Paul W. Hankins (@PaulWHankins), called “Magic is Real: Magic, Fantasy, and Realism in Middle Grade” under the hashtag #magicisreal.  Be sure to stop by and join in! 

Additional Breadcrumbs Blog Tour Stops

Tuesday, 9/27 – Review and Book Giveaway at Mundie Kids
Wednesday, 9/28 – Review and Skype Giveaway at Great Kid Books
Wednesday, 9/28 – Book Giveaway at 5 Minutes for Books
Thursday, 9/29 – Interview at Bildungsroman
Friday, 9/30 – Review, Guest Post, and Book Giveaway at Bookalicious
Saturday, 10/1 – Interview and Skype Giveaway at Kid Lit Frenzy
Sunday, 10/2 – Review, Interview, and Book Giveaway at The Reading Zone
Monday, 10/3 – Guest Post at Galleysmith
Tuesday 10/4 – Review at Galleysmith
Tuesday, 10/4 – Guest Post, Review, and Book Giveaway at The Book Smugglers
Wednesday, 10/5 – Review and Illustrator Interview at A Backwards Story
Thursday, 10/6 – Guest Post at The Mod Podge Bookshelf
Friday, 10/7 – Interview at Book Rat

Magnificent 12

The Magnificent 12: The Trap (available now!) is another fast-paced episode in New York Times bestselling author Michael Grant’s hilarious fantasy adventure series. Mack MacAvoy already answered The Call. Now he must assemble the Magnificent Twelve and avoid The Trap if he’s to save the world from the wicked Pale Queen. But time is short—the Pale Queen’s banishment ends in 35 days and she will be free to destroy the world! Can Mack assemble the Twelve and avoid The Trap?

I am excited to join the adventure as a stop on the blog tour.  You can join in, too!  Read along as Michael Grant introduces characters new and old from the world of The Magnificent 12 and gives sneak peeks at their adventures in The Magnificent 12: The Trap . Each post on the blog tour reveals a clue about a worldly location the Magnificent Twelve visit in THE TRAP. Follow Michael Grant and the characters to each blog until you’ve discovered all eight locations. At the final stop on the blog tour, enter all eight locations to win a signed copy of both MAGNIFICENT 12 books!

Plus, you can join The Magnificent 12 online community: Play free games, create an avatar, enter sweepstakes, and earn points at www.themag12.com!

Ok!

Ready to get your Mag 12 on? Here’s your sixth character and clue:

Post #6: the Golem

Someone, or something, has to take Mack’s place while he’s off finding the rest of the Magnificent Twelve, and that something is the Golem. Imagine a slightly-deformed, mud version of yourself and that’s the Golem. Oh, he might have a single long tooth instead of a row of teeth, and his feet might dissolve when they get wet, but luckily Mack’s parents are too distracted to notice much—even the replacement of their son with a ceiling-walking, nostril-less magic creature.

In THE TRAP, the Golem is doing a fine job living Mack’s life . . . except that he can’t find Mack’s English paper in the computer (is there even room for paper inside the computer?) and he keeps getting detention. And oh yeah, he might have just agreed to date someone the real Mack definitely does not want to date.

Clue: THE TRAP location #6: You can find these massive upright stones arranged in a mysterious circle in England. What you won’t find is an explanation of who put them there. Seriously, what’s up with all these giant rocks?

Find the next clue Monday at  Novel Novice!

And just in case you missed the first 5 clues, we’ll fill you in:

Clue: THE TRAP location #1: If you’re in Beijing, China and craving deep-fried crickets, centipedes, and lizards for dinner, this is the place to go. Hint: it’s not McDonald’s! Read it and meet Grimluk at The O.W.L.

Clue: THE TRAP location #2: With 9,999 rooms, this is the world’s largest surviving palace complex. For 9,999 bonus points, memorize a map of this place. (Note: We lied—there aren’t any bonus points. But if you still want to memorize a map of 9,999 rooms . . . you’re crazy.) Read it and meet Mack at Mundie Moms.

Clue: THE TRAP location #3: People say you can see this Chinese monument from space. We’ve never been to space, so we can’t say for sure if that’s true, but it’s definitely HUGE. For a bonus point, build a model of this monument out of 1 million Popsicle sticks. (Note: We lied again. No bonus points. But we’ll help you eat Popsicles if you want.) Read it and meet Risky at Charlotte’s Library.

Clue: THE TRAP location #4: This location is an ancient distinctive rock formation in Germany. It’s sort of like the German equivalent of Uluru, which you might remember from BOOK 1: THE CALL. Giant rocks. Gotta love ’em. Read it and meet Jarrah at Reading Nook.

Clue: THE TRAP location #5: This location was home to the ancient Norse god, Thor, before Thor fell to earth and met Natalie Portman and became a movie star.  Read it and meet Paddy at Alison’s Bookmarks.

Check out the rest of the blog tour here!

And a book trailer!

I Love Jessica Darling and Megan McCafferty!

I love Jessica Darling.  She is smart, sarcastic, and a fellow Jersey girl.  Back in 2008 I picked up Sloppy Firsts: A Jessica Darling Novel after seeing it at the bookstore.  I then flew through the rest of the series in a matter of days and have been recommending it to everyone I know ever since then.  I was eight years late picking up Sloppy Firsts, though.  It was first published way back in 2001, when I was starting college. (This is my excuse for missing out on it back then!).  But Megan McCafferty is throwing a month-long party in celebration of the 10th anniversary of Sloppy Firsts.  I am thrilled to be a part of the party today, interviewing both Jessica and Megan. :)

First, a few questions for Jessica Darling!


Welcome, Meg! I’m a Jersey girl, and I like to think that Jessica and I are very similar (clearly me projecting). One of my biggest guilty pleasures is MTV’s Jersey Shore. So who would Jessica’s favorite Jersey Shore cast member be, and why?

Snooki. Jessica would hate to admit it, of course. But I think she’d have grudging admiration any girl who is bold enough to do a drunken dance-floor cartwheel in a thong.

Haha, very true!  I think we can all agree with that.  How about some other aspects of pop culture.  What’s on Jessica’s iPod today? What is she reading? (I’m cheating, I know- this is two questions. :) )

Jessica listens to LCD Soundsystem because James Murphy was so heavily influenced by 80s new wave and electronica. And she reads Jezebel.com and wishes it had existed when she was in college so she could have gotten an internship there.

Sigh.  More things Jessica and I have in common.  I love Jezebel.  I’m addicted to celebrity gossip and other ridiculousness.  What about Jessica?  If she had to choose one celebrity crush, who would it be?

Len Levy, lead singer of the multiplatinum band The Mighties.

You stumped me there.  Now I have to google The Mighties!  Itunes, here I come.  Forget celeb crushes though.  Tell us what Marcus Flutie is like today! How has he changed? How has he stayed the same? What are your future plans?

Marcus is happier now than he’s ever been. Let’s just leave it at that.

Oooh.  An intriguing answer.  :) And you, Meg?  What’s your life like right now?

As for me, I’m working on the idea for my next book. And THUMPED (sequel to Bumped) comes out in Spring 2012.

Woot!  Can’t wait to read THUMPED!  But first, back to Jessica.  What was her New Year’s Resolution for 2011?

Don’t feel guilty when good things happen to you.

I like that.  Words to live by from Jessica Darling.  So Meg, as you look back to when you were first drafting Sloppy Firsts, what advice would you give to past-Meg?

Oh, to be so clueless about the business of selling books. You’ll never be so blissfully naïve again.

Haha.  I guess there’s nothing better than blissful ignorance.  Before the business end of writing came into the picture, you had to draft.  What came first? Did Jessica come to you as a character, or was the concept/plot the first thing that you started with?

Voice came first. Then I created a character to go with that voice. I struggled with plot, trying to figure out what was going to happen to this Jessica Darling girl that I had invented. The title SLOPPY FIRSTS actually came from another unrelated short story I wrote in college that eventually was published in Seventeen magazine as TRUE BLUE.

And what type of writer are you? Do you plan ahead/plot or do you simply fly by the seat of your pants?

It’s a combination of planning, inspiration and intuition. I have to know how the book begins and ends, with very flexible ideas for what happens in between. I love making discoveries about the story and the characters as I go along. Those surprises are what keep things interesting for me as a writer—and for the readers.

 Do you write everyday? Do you have a specific writing schedule?


When I’m working on a book, I write from Monday to Friday while my son is in school. I have a minimum word count that I must get done (usually 750 words) before I’ll allow myself to do anything else, like go to the gym or go out to lunch. Once my son comes home, I’m done for the day. I try to keep my writing life and my real life as separate as possible, which can be a challenge because I work at home.

And what books are you reading now? Any recommendations?

I just finished Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins, the most charming romance I’ve read in ages. Now I’m reading Tales of the Madman Underground by John Barnes. It won a bunch of awards for YA fiction, but I think it could have just as easily won accolades if it had been published as an adult title.

Thanks for stopping by, Meg!  It’s always a pleasure to talk to you. And thank you for giving the world Jessica Darling!  

Do you love Jessica Darling?  Be sure to take part in Megan McCafferty’s SLOPPY FIRSTS: The Epic 10th Anniversary Giving Away of Rare and One-of-a-Kind Stuff.

(from Meg’s blog)

To commemorate the 10th Anniversary, I’d like you, the biggest supporters of my series,  to share with me (and the world) what SLOPPY FIRSTS has meant to you. What form should your tribute take? That’s up to you. Write a heartfelt blog post about discovering SLOPPY FIRSTS in the bookstore. Make a video re-enacting the infamous “lip nip” with finger puppets. Compose a song incorporating one of Jessica’s many graphs, charts and lists. Create a line of SLOPPY FIRSTS inspired t-shirts.  EXPRESS YOUR LOVE ANY WAY YOU WANT TO. Send me the link(s) to your awesome tributes via Twitter or my Facebook Page, tagged #sloppyfirsts10th. (If you are a nonparticipant in these social networks, you can always email me at megan@meganmccafferty.com.)

……BE CREATIVE AND HAVE FUN. I can’t wait to see what you come up with.

 

I can’t wait to see what the fans come up with. And Meg has some fantastic prizes up for grabs, including “A SPECIAL 10th ANNIVERSARY EDITION of SLOPPY FIRSTS. A one-of-a-kind copy randomly annotated in my (Megan’s) very own, very sloppy handwriting .”  Umm, yes please!

Interview with Maria Padian, author of Jersey Tomatoes are the Best

Please welcome Maria Padian to the blog!  I recently finished reading her novel, Jersey Tomatoes are the Best. A fantastic realistic fiction story for many of today’s over-scheduled and high-achieving teens, I highly recommend it.  It’s much deeper than it appears to be at the surface and would pair well with Laurie Halse Anderson’s work!

Summary from the publisher:

This is a hilarious and heartbreaking story of two teen girls and the summer when everything changes for them. Both Henry and Eva are New Jersey natives and excellent athletes: Henry’s a master on the tennis court and Eva is a graceful ballerina. When opportunity knocks for both of them the summer before their junior year in high school they throw open the door: Henry sees freedom from her overbearing father and a chance to build her talents on the court. Eva sees the chance to be the best as well as even more pressure to be graceful, lighter, more perfect on the dancefloor.

Soon, Eva’s obsession with physical perfection leads her down the path to anorexia, and her health issues overwhelm everything else. But through it all these two best friends know that Jersey Tomatoes are the Best, and nothing will come between them no matter the distance.


Thanks so much for agreeing to be interviewed at thereadingzone, Maria! I read and loved Jersey Tomatoes are the Best. When you first got the idea for Jersey Tomatoes are the Best, what came first? Did Henry and Eva come to you as characters, or was the concept/plot the first thing?

I wanted to write a story about kids under pressure because everywhere I look I see young people bent beneath the weight of expectations, parental pressure, homework, you name it! I was playing around with that idea when the character of Henry developed.

I’m a great believer in the “plot follows character” method of writing. If you know a character, you’ll know what he/she will do, and their story unfolds before you. I also need to hear a character’s voice in my head before I can start writing his/her story, and Henry had a very distinct way of speaking right at the outset!

The big surprise in this book was Eva: she started off as a minor character and Henry’s sidekick. But then, she took on a life of her own, and when Henry was set to leave for  tennis camp in Florida, I commented to my teenage daughter, “I’m about to abandon Eva in New Jersey and my editor won’t like that.” My daughter sighed, threw an armload of her books on my bed and said, “You clearly need a two-narrator novel. Take a look at these.” The entire novel changed at that point.

2. Why did you choose New Jersey as your setting?

I’m a Jersey Girl! I grew up in northern Jersey, in a small town called Allendale. It was a wonderful place to be a kid and I have terrific memories of riding my bike across town to play tennis at the public courts with friends. It was just pure fun to place Henry and Eva in the Garden State.

3. What type of writer are you? Do you plan ahead/plot or do you simply fly by the seat of your pants?

I’m the sort who knows the beginning and the end, but no clue as to what will happen in the middle! My challenge is figuring out how to get to the end.

My favorite metaphor for writing is that it’s driving, in the fog, with the headlights on. I know my destination and I can only see about 10 feet in front of me. I know if I keep moving forward, I’ll eventually reach my destination. Of course, sometimes, as I’m driving, I’ll see someone standing on the side of the road with his thumb out. Some people might call him a hitchhiker; I call him a plot twist. I can choose to keep driving, or I can let him in. Generally, I try to trust, and let the hitchhiker in, because then the trip gets really interesting.

4. Do you write everyday? Do you have a specific writing schedule?

I write every day, usually in the morning, after I walk the dog. I become pretty grumpy if I don’t write each day, and the dog becomes grumpy if she doesn’t walk, so this works for both of us.

5. And the most important question- what is your favorite go-to snack when you are writing?

Chocolate, of course. In pretty much any form.

6. I have to admit, I moved Jersey Tomatoes are the Best up on my pile for a few reasons. First, I live in NJ and I am a Jersey girl through and through. Second, your author bio says you have an Australian Shepherd, and so do I! I’d love to hear a little about your Aussie! My Dublin is almost 2 years old and keeps me active, laughing, and learning.

You’re from Jersey? What exit??  (I am from Exit 114!)

Dublin: what a terrific dog name! Our Aussie is Frisbee, and she is without a doubt the most intelligent, most athletic member of the family. To steal a phrase from one of my favorite fictional characters, Eloise, Frisbee is “my mostly companion.” At any give time of day I can look up from where I work and she is watching me, waiting to play. She always has a ball within tossing distance, and even if you think she’s sleeping, she’s actually waiting … watching … ready to spring to action in a nanosecond.

My daughter says a dog is like a banjo: you can’t play a sad song on a banjo, and you can’t be sad if you’re playing with a dog. Frisbee lightens up our whole family; we love her.

 

 

Thanks so much for stopping by, Maria!  It’s been great getting to know you, and thank you for your wonderful new book!  I highly recommend it.

 

Follow Maria to the next stop on her blog tour:

April 1st—Cleverly Inked http://CleverlyInked.com

 

Lesley M.M. Blume is Here!

AN INTERVIEW WITH LESLEY M. M. BLUME
Author of Modern Fairies, Dwarves, Goblins, and Other Nasties: A Practical Guide by Miss Edythe McFate


Today I am so excited to welcome Lesley M.M. Blume to the blog!  One of my favorite authors, I was lucky enough to hear her speak at a publisher’s preview a few years ago.  Her Tennyson is one of my top five favorite books (ever)!  When I was given the opportunity to join her blog tour for Modern Fairies, Dwarves, Goblins, and Other Nasties: A Practical Guide by Miss Edythe McFate, I jumped at the chance to pick her brain.

Modern Fairies, Dwarves, Goblins, and Other Nasties: A Practical Guide by Miss Edythe McFate is different from your other books for children as it is a collection of short stories, rather than a novel. How was your writing process different for this book?

It actually wasn’t hugely different. With novels, I handwrite the elements of each chapter while sitting at my favorite neighborhood café – always with my special fountain pen in a red leather notebook — and then I go home and write it up on my laptop. In the case of MODERN FAIRIES, I’d map out each short story and follow the same process. What was different was being able to create and concentrate on a different setting and set of characters each time around – it was very liberating and fresh.

Short stories seem to be a dying genre for children, outside of textbooks and the occasional children’s magazine. What inspired you to publish this collection?

Well, if you think about it, short stories should be more relevant than ever. Much has been written about the so-called waning of attention spans of the digital generation, so short stories should be more in demand than ever. I personally loved short stories as a kid; one of my favorite children’s books – The Devil’s Storybook by Natalie Babbitt – was a short story collection, and as a writer, I was simply ready to throw my hat into that ring as well.

Were you well-versed in fairy stories as a child? Were you one of those children who was able to see magic in life- fairies in the flowers, hobgoblins guarding the George Washington Bridge , etc?

Yes – absolutely. I read everything on the topic, and it was a great joy to revisit these tales years later while I researched MODERN FAIRIES. I spent hours in our backyard, looking for fairies, “ringing” lily of the valley buds to lure the creatures out of hiding. We had a dark circle of grass in the yard; my mother told me that it was a fairy ring and as a result had to spend many midnight hours chasing me out of the “ring” and back up into my bedroom.

Do you have the same writing routine whether you are writing for children or adults?

You know – I just realized that I have a different approach for the respective age groups. For adult non-fiction especially, I rarely handwrite the elements first. It just goes straight into laptop. So funny. I wonder why.

What do we have to look forward to next? Are you currently working on anything for children or teens?

I’m currently working on another collection of very short stories about the ancient animal world: another fantasy- and mythology-oriented work. It’s quite delightful and bizarre – my illustrator David Foote and I are sort of inventing a new genre and format as we go along. It’s not *quite* a short story collection; nor it is a literal guidebook. It’s novel-like, in that it follows the adventure of a single protagonist over many years. I’ll be curious to see what everyone thinks of it when it hits shelves in 2012.

Wow!  I can’t wait to read what you have coming up.  I always look forward to your writing and I am so glad you could stop by today.

Modern Fairies, Dwarves, Goblins, and Other Nasties: A Practical Guide by Miss Edythe McFate is the perfect holiday gift for that middle grade reader in your life.   Pick up a copy today!

 

 

 

Be sure to check out the rest of the tour:

LESLEY M. M. BLUME’S MODERN FAIRIES BLOG TOUR

Monday, December 13th – Random Acts of Reading

http://randomactsofreading.wordpress.com/

Tuesday, December 14th – Library Lounge Lizard

http://www.libraryloungelizard.com/

Wednesday, December 15th – Through the Looking Glass Book Review Blog

http://lookingglassreview.blogspot.com/

Thursday, December 16th – Book Divas

http://bookdivas.com/

Friday, December 17th – The Children’s Book Review

http://www.thechildrensbookreview.com/

Saturday, December 18th – The Book Faerie

http://bkfaerie.blogspot.com/

Sunday, December 19th – The Reading Zone

https://thereadingzone.wordpress.com/

Monday, December 20th – SUVUDU

http://suvudu.com/

 

Kate Messner Talks about Sugar and Ice

I am thrilled to be interviewing Kate Messner today!  Her latest middle grade novel, Sugar and Ice, will be released this week and it is absolutely wonderful! I already passed my ARC on to my 6th grade sister because I just know that she will adore it as much as I did. (Look for my review later this week!)

Right now, I am so happy to introduce Kate!  She is an amazing writer, teacher, and mom, which leaves me in awe.

 

So Kate, when did you decide that you wanted to be a writer? And once you did decide, how did you get into a routine of writing daily?


I’ve always been a writer, since I could hold a pencil. When I was in elementary school and junior high, I did a lot of creative writing, but as I got older and had more homework, I put that writing mostly on hold. It was after I was a mom and teacher that I really rediscovered the stories I’d loved as a kid and started writing for myself again.

When I started working on my first book, I wasn’t really in a good routine; I’d write in fits and starts, stealing a few hours on a weekend and then not getting back to the project for weeks. However, as my kids got a little older, I got better at setting aside time for writing each night, which is what I do now.

 

What is it like to be a writer and a full-time teacher and a mom? How do you do it all?

Actually, I find that my writing, teaching, and mothering lives complement each other beautifully! When I have to take a research trip, whether it’s up the road to Montreal or across the country, the whole family usually comes, and we make a bigger trip out of it.

As an English teacher, I find that being a writer lends a sense of credibility and vulnerability to the job. I think I tend to empathize much better with my students when I have to go home and revise myself at the end of the school day! And of course, it affords us lots of opportunities to talk about craft, since I share my editors’ revision notes and my own struggles with writing with my kids.

 

When you first got the idea for Sugar and Ice, what came first? Did Claire come to you as a character, or was the concept/plot the first thing?

To be totally honest, this book kind of happened by accident. My daughter had signed up for a basic skills skating camp in Lake Placid, and I was going to drop her off and head for the coffee shop across the street to revise my other book, THE BRILLIANT FALL OF GIANNA Z. I’d apparently missed the small print in the registration materials, though, and didn’t realize that when I signed the girl up for skating camp, I had also signed myself up for a skater-mom education program.

For the first fifteen minutes, I kept trying to devise ways to escape…but then I really started listening to the experts who gave presentations. Thousand dollar skate blades? Really? And then there was the sports psychologist who really captured my imagination with her stories of how she works with skaters to keep the sport healthy amid all the competition. What a perfect world for a book for kids! I was sold…and started taking notes that afternoon.

Claire came to me later on, as I was wondering what kind of kid might have the most difficulty adjusting to that fast-paced, competitive skating lifestyle. I thought it would be interesting to take a girl from a small-town maple farm and see how she managed in a world of mean girls on ice.

 

I know you are also working on a teacher resource book that focuses on revision. What have you learned about revision that you did not know before by focusing so much on the topic?

Enough to write a whole book! Honestly, this project was one of the best things I’ve ever done, not only in terms of the actual book, which I love, but because I learned so much that I can use in my teaching and writing lives. I interviewed more than forty authors about their revision processes and learned that while our goals are the same, everyone has their own little tricks and pet strategies that make the revision road an easier one to travel.

I added about a million tricks to my own revision toolbox as I worked on this book. It features lots of the strategies I used when I was revising SUGAR AND ICE and THE BRILLIANT FALL OF GIANNA Z, and it also includes lots of tips from other authors, all adapted in ways that can be used in the classroom. The title is REAL REVISION: AUTHORS’ STRATEGIES TO SHARE WITH STUDENT WRITERS, and it’ s due out from Stenhouse this spring.

 

What is your favorite go-to snack when you are writing?

Oh, that’s easy. Chocolate. Always chocolate.

 

You are also a 7th grade teacher.  What book are you recommending to your students right now? Alternately, what book(s) are they just devouring?

I just got back from the NCTE/ALAN conference with two boxes of books for my kids, and they’ve descended on them like vultures. There’s a big wait-list for dystopian titles like MATCHED by Ally Condie and the ARC of DIVERGENT by Veronica Roth, due out in May. Kids are also loving the books I had signed to them by Wendy Mass and Lisa Yee.

My students are also loving GIRL, STOLEN by April Henry, OUT OF MY MIND by Sharon Draper, TOUCH BLUE by Cynthia Lord, ALABAMA MOON and DIRT ROAD HOME by Watt Key, THE HUNGER GAMES trilogy, HOW TO SAY GOODBYE IN ROBOT by Natalie Standiford, NEED by Carrie Jones, HARMONIC FEEDBACK by Tara Kelly, MAGIC UNDER GLASS by Jackie Dolamore, and sports books by Tim Green and Mike Lupica.

And of course, some of the books I can’t quite manage to put into the classroom library until I’ve had a chance to read them! I just finished an ARC of Gayle Forman’s WHERE SHE WENT tonight (amazing!) and started reading an ARC of Jenny Moss’s TAKING OFF, set around the time of the Challenger disaster (also amazing so far!).

 

Wow!  Those are some amazing books.  And like you, I held back my copy of WHERE SHE WENT so that I could read it first.  It’s one of the perks of being the teacher!  Don’t worry, though- I already passed it on to a voracious reader. :)

Thanks so much for stopping by, Kate!  It’s been a pleasure hosting you!

 

Want a personalized, signed copy of SUGAR AND ICE?

The Bookstore Plus in Lake Placid is hosting a SUGAR AND ICE launch party from 3-5 pm on Saturday, December 11th, so please consider this your invitation if you live in the area! If you can’t make it but would still like a signed, personalized copy, just give the bookstore a call at (518) 523-2950 by December 10th. They’ll take your order, have Kate sign your book after the event, and ship it out to you in plenty of time for the holidays.

Sugar and Ice

Junior Library Guild Selection

Winter 2010-2011 Kids IndieNext List

Amazon Best Books for December 2010

 

For Claire Boucher, life is all about skating on the frozen cow pond and in the annual Maple Show right before the big pancake breakfast on her family’s maple farm. But all that changes when Claire is offered a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity- a scholarship to train with the elite skaters in Lake Placid. Tossed into a world of mean girls on ice, where competition is everything, Claire soon realizes that her sweet dream-come-true has sharper edges than she could have imagined. Can she find the strength to stand up to the people who want her to fail and the courage to decide which dream she wants to follow?

Interview with J&P Voelkel

A few weeks ago I reviewed J&P Voelkel’s The Jaguar Stones, Book One: Middleworld.  I absolutely loved it and can’t wait to booktalk it this fall.  In the meantime, I was thrilled when presented with the opportunity to interview Jon and Pamela, the husband and wife team behind the book.  There are very few books out there about Mesoamerica, and even fewer for teens and tweens.  I can’t wait to get this one in the hands of my readers.  I also can’t wait to share with them the fascinating interview below.

Hello!  Welcome to the blog and thank you for taking the time to answer my questions.  As a huge fan of Meso-American culture, I was thrilled to read MIDDLEWORLD. I became interested in Mesoamerica when I began studying monarch butterflies and I share as much as I can with my students each year. How did you become interested in the Mayans?

First of all, we’re honored to meet another Mesoamerican fan! It’s an exciting time to be studying the Maya, because the archaeologists are making new discoveries all the time. There are still thousands of sites to be excavated in Central America, so we always hope that one of the students we meet on our school visits will decide to become an archaeologist and make the biggest Maya discovery of all time!  As to how we became interested, Jon grew up in Latin America and remembers his first visit to some ruins, when he was eight or nine.  I went to school in England where Mesoamerica was never mentioned, so I knew nothing about the Maya until we started on the book.  In fact, when Jon wrote the first draft, the pyramids were just a cool background to a jungle adventure story.  I think we both had a vague idea that the Maya had died out centuries ago.  As we began to research the book and realize the depth of our ignorance, we wanted to learn more and more about this fascinating civilization.  We were also inspired by a chance meeting with a group of Maya teenagers at a site in Guatemala.  They were so excited that children in North America would be reading about their culture, we realized that we owed it to them to get the facts right.

How did you research the mythology and culture in the book? How long did it take you to draft the first book, including research?

First of all we read every book we could lay our hands on.  Then we realized that a lot of the books were out of date and read the new crop of books. A big breakthrough came when Jon did a course at Harvard on reading and writing Maya glyphs.  Through that he met a very cool professor named Dr Marc Zender who agreed to check all our facts for us.  In all, Book 1 probably took about four years to write.  We must have written twenty drafts. Since we began, we’ve made several trips down to Belize, Guatemala and Mexico, where we’ve talked to contemporary Maya people, canoed underground rivers, tracked howler monkeys, explored cave systems and visited about 30 Maya sites – so far!


Was the research difficult? I know that when I look for mythology and information to share with my students, it can be difficult to find sources of information. When I do find it, it tends to be in Spanish or a Mesoamerican language. Do you speak Spanish or any of the Mesoamerican languages?

As we’re sure you’ve found in your own research, what makes it difficult is that there’s so much misinformation about the Maya.  The archaeologists have only been able to read the Maya glyphs with any accuracy for the last 30 years – which means that much of what was written before is guesswork and often completely wrong.  The internet is also abuzz with nonsense.  Because the Maya were shrouded in mystery for so long, it seems like people have felt free to project their own perspectives onto them. The only way we’ve found to be sure of using current information is to connect with the archaeologists who are working in the field right now.  We attend lectures and seminars to hear the latest news before it’s published. A great source of information is the annual Maya at the Playa conference in Florida.  And yes, Jon grew up speaking Spanish, so that’s extremely helpful – particularly on our travels in Central America.  Incidentally, we’ve put much of what we’ve learned on a cross-curricular lesson plan CD – free to teachers from www.jaguarstones.com

What’s it like to write as a duo?


Good question!  We used to take it in turns to each write a draft, but these days Pamela does most of the writing and Jon does most of the illustrating. The best thing about working together (and probably the worst thing for our kids) is that we can discuss the plot seven days a week.  We both know the characters so well, they’re like members of the family.  Where other writers have to argue with the voices in their own heads, I get to argue with a real, live person!  Sometimes the arguments get quite heated, but we never settle until we’ve agreed on an outcome we can both believe in one hundred per cent.  I think working as a duo makes the book more exciting because we try to surprise each other by inserting more and more twists and turns into the plot.  I would also say that Jon is more action-oriented while I worry more about the characters’ feelings, so it’s a good balance.

Via Twitter, I saw that you were at ALA this year. What was the best part of being there?

ALA was amazing, a booklover’s dream.  To be surrounded by piles of books and people talking about books was heaven.  Two memorable events were signing our books at the Egmont booth and going out for a huge Mexican dinner with a dozen delightful librarians.  But the best thing of all was that our 13-year-old daughter got to meet her favorite author, Laurie Halse Anderson. LHA sat right down on the floor and chatted with her like an old friend.  It was a life-changing moment.

What is your favorite snack to eat while you are writing?


Pamela eats sweet potato chips; Jon drinks soda and crunches on the ice.

That does sound delicious.  And like Jon, I love to crunch the ice after drinking my Pepsi.  Thanks again for stopping by and I can’t wait to read the next book in the series!

N. D. Wilson Blog Tour- Life Cycle of a Writer

I am thrilled to be a part of N.D. Wilson’s blog tour for the final book in his exciting series, The 100 Cupboards.  The first book, 100 Cupboards: Book 1 (The 100 Cupboards), is the current book club selection for Al Roker’s Book Club for Kids. The final book in the series, The Chestnut King: Book 3 of the 100 Cupboards, was released last month. The whole series is great and N.D. Wilson is a phenomenal writer. I absolutely loved Leepike Ridge, which I read a few years ago. (Check out my  review for more thoughts.)

Today, N.D. Wilson stops by TheReadingZone to share some of his thoughts on writing.  I can’t wait to share this with my students!  (And anyone who knows me is aware that I love metaphors that deal with insects and metamorphosis!)




Writers are like insects. We hatch in kindergarten—learning to read. And as our reading level climbs, we enter into some form of larval stage, consuming everything in front of us. Place a stack of fresh leaves in front of a globulous caterpillar and you have the perfect picture of the young writer. A young writer is a young reader—someone who will devour virtually anything. At this point, gatekeepers are necessary. It’s up to teachers, librarians, and parents to make sure that the books consumed are actually healthy (and helpful). Like any other form of consumption, not everything is good for you. A lot of kids with appetites for stories end up stuck in some form of literary junk food, a place with a never ending supply, where it’s easy to grow lazy and narrow in their tastes. Of course, when teachers are dealing with kids who hate eating at all, junk food is a great place to start. The flavors are simple and appealing. But those are different kids and different problem. We’re talking about young hungry, hungry caterpillars. The devourers. Bottomless pits. Throw anything at them and they’ll bring it back tomorrow, finished. (The first time I ever stayed up all night, I think I was in sixth grade, reading a book. And it was a terrible book, too.)

The first great change finally comes. The young writer’s belly is bulging. They become picky. Or they should. We are corpulent. We are full, and our parents and teachers and librarians panic. What happened to the appetite? Where has it gone? Has the reader died? Lazing bloated on the sofa, we complain of our boredom, we push books away untasted. We’ve seen this little thing with the dragon before. Funke did it first. Or at least second. This happens at different ages. I started doing this in the fifth grade. For others, it comes sooner. And I know people who didn’t get picky until college.

We have become pupae. Wrap us in a cocoon of old favorites. Actually, bring me mere selections of my old favorites. Give us some space—a little breather. And then make us work again, but differently. At this point, the young writer’s greatest strength—that which needs to be developed—is distaste. They need the ability to loath a character, a plot, a concept. If they are ever going to be left completely in the driver’s seat of a narrative, they need to develop a connoisseur’s palate for literary finesse and a quick sneer for literary folly. Make them read, but encourage them when they throw a paperback across the room. Question them. Force them to develop. Make them justify their own dislike. Help them learn to tear down stories. And, of course, in that context, the discovery of a story that pleases is sweet relief. But don’t let it sail by untested either. What was better about that book? Why did it resonate? What was more believable about it than the poor hurled paperback? The boredom fades. Sitting in judgment, the discovery of talent and failure, and the contrast of characters is interesting. Until it too, becomes easy.

And now it’s time for a dose of humility.

Make them fix stories. You don’t like My Side of the Mountain? The Egypt Game? Fine. Fix them. Make them better. Force the young writer out of the destructive phase and into positive construction. And don’t just pat them on the back and smile at every proposal. Turn their critical eyes onto their own ideas. Self-regulating creativity is a must. Judge them by their own finicky judgments.

Of course, throughout all of this, the hope is that these kids are learning the basics of craft as well. The mechanics of a sentence, a paragraph, metaphor, simile, etc. But those do not make a writer. Those are tools in a builder’s hands, and they’re terrific. But the builder needs visions. The builder needs imagination, creativity, sharp critical teeth, and the ability to weigh (and discard) ideas.

For me, the critical process kicked off as a result of my father. He pushed me when I moaned about my school reading. He was fine with my constant return to favorite passages from Lewis and Tolkien, but at that phase, it was just as important to read things that I hated—so long as the hatred could be justified.

My entrance into high school brought new desires. Forget fixing other people’s stories. I wanted my own. Prose craft became the order of the day, and lots of parental encouragement (and red ink criticism). I had sharp enough eyes to know that I wasn’t any good (when compared to my favorite authors—and I truly couldn’t think of any way to describe firelight without using the word dancing). That struggle to communicate kept me going. I read more poetry. I disciplined myself by writing (bad) poetry. I focused on many, many short exercises, especially sketching real scenes and events, and trying to reproduce conversations I stole in public. (The beauty of sketching the real is that it’s easier to tell when you’ve gotten it wrong.) I read more and more broadly. All the way through college and then grad school, I focused on short, refined prose. Finally, having popped out the other end of my formal education, I began tackling novels. And here I am.

All of this is autobiographical. I have no way of asserting this as the universal path to becoming a writer. But I have a nagging belief that my own experience is hardly unique, and many’s the time that I’ve listened to the grief of parents who believe their middle school reader has passed on—bored, listless, critical . . . pupating.

I’m no beautiful butterfly. A lunar moth, maybe (if I flatter myself). But I’d like to be a dragon fly. I want mosquitoes to fear me.

The book trailer for The Chestnut King: Book 3 of the 100 Cupboards:

Be sure to check out N.D. Wilson on the rest of his blog tour!

2/8 Shadow Hunters

2/9 Books4YourKids

2/10 Here!

2/11 Eva’s Book Addiction

2/12 Becky’s Book Reviews

2/12 Fireside Musings

N.D. Wilson’s website is great- be sure to check it out!




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