Monday, April 24, 2017

On Character Movement: I Don't Care If They Have An Itchy Nose

About a year ago I started offering manuscript critique services for aspiring authors. I give the kind of feedback that I want from my own critique partners - a heavy dose of tough love along with a touch of praise. The tough love is what makes all writers (including myself) improve. The touch of praise is there because creating is a difficult job, and even the act of putting words to the page deserves recognition. 

What doesn't deserve recognition is every footfall, head turn, eyebrow rise, nose scratch, and finger twitch of any character. 

This is a hangup of mine, and I freely admit that I often go too far in the other direction and have one (or more) of my trusted critique partners let me know that my characters went from talking in the library to riding in a car without a transition. And no, that's not acceptable. 

What is acceptable?

Movement pertinent to plot and setting.

Is your character shading their eyes from the hot California sun? Bingo - that matters because you just found a way to get setting in there without saying, "I live in California."

Is your character scratching their nose because they're allergic to cats and that fact plays into the meet-cute you've got planned with the manager of the local Humane Society? Okay, cool.

This is the kind of movement that matters because it's relevant. Too much character movement can kill a scene. So if you've got dialogue that reads like this:

"I don't understand," Samantha said, her eyebrows coming together.

It doesn't work, in my opinion. The eyebrows coming together are to illustrate confusion. But the confusion is already there in the words she said. What's happening here (and I was completely guilty of this when I started) is that you're trying too hard to control the picture. You want your reader to see what you see, and that means you're overwriting. The nose scratch shows confusion, or nervousness - but good dialogue will show that on its own. Let your reader fill in the body language. 

A bigger issue with character movement is getting characters from one point to another. 

For one thing, if it's not all that important, throw in a scene break. If they're in school for a scene, and then the next thing that happens relevant to the story is over dinner, scene break. You don't need to fill in with meaningless stuff just to make time pass - your book isn't delivered in real time. We assume stuff happened in between first period and dinner, but that it doesn't matter to the story. You don't narrate every time your character, eats, drinks, bathes, or goes to the bathroom. We assume they do those things.

Getting them from one place to another within a scene can be trickier. You don't want a scene break every time the setting changes or you'll have a bunch of two paragraph chapters. If you start with your character waking up and next thing is them eating breakfast, you don't have to narrate that they went downstairs. We figure that out on our own.

Everything I say above is subjective. This is me speaking about what I prefer to read, and how I like to write. That being said, I do think that shaving down character movement gives your reader more freedom to visually interpret scenes in their own way, pulling them deeper into the book through that very interaction.

And that's where you want them.

Friday, April 21, 2017

Book Talk & ARC Giveaway: HOW DARE THE SUN RISE: MEMOIRS OF A WAR CHILD by Sandra Uwiringiyimana

My book talks are coming at you from a librarian, not a reviewer. You won't find me talking about style or craft, why I think this could've been better or what worked or didn't work. I only do book talks on books I liked and want other people to know about. So if it's here I probably think it won't injure your brain if you read it.

Sandra Uwiringiyimana was ten years old when she watched her mother and six year old sister be gunned down in front her. A member of a displaced tribe in Africa, Sandra had never found a place to fit in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where other children thought she was Rwandan and taunted her for it.

When many of her family members are killed inside the refugee camp, Sandra and what's left of her relations have no money and nowhere to turn. Eventually through a United Nations refugee program, Sandra finds herself in New York as a middle schooler - still unable to find a place to fit in.

In this memoir, Sandra tells the story of her survival, of finding her place in a new country, of her hope for the future, and how she found a way to give voice to her people.

Want to help me with all the mailing costs? I do giveaways at least once week, sometimes more. It can add up. If you feel so inclined as to donate a little to defray my mailing costs, it would be much appreciated! Donating has no impact on your chances of winning.


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Thursday, April 20, 2017

Thursday Thoughts

Thoughts lately...

1) I've been watching the original Planet Earth in the background while revising. As a result, whenever I'm about to kill a character I hear "Wolf Takes Down Baby Caribou" music.

2) The Deep Sea episode had me gaping. I think I would be a lot of fun in a submersible. There would be numerous sound bytes of me going, "WTF IS THAT?!?!"

3) Now, no matter what is going on, Richard Attenborough narrates it in my head. It can be damn funny when applied to a high school library.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Wednesday WOLF

I'm a nerd. I'm in fact such a big nerd that I tend to look up word origins in my spare time because I'm fascinated by our language. The odder the origin, the better. I've got a collection of random information in my brain that makes me an awesome Trivial Pursuit partner, but is completely useless when it comes to real world application. Like say, job applications.

In any case, I thought I'd share some of this random crap with you in the form of the new acronym-ific series. I give you - Word Origins from Left Field - that's right, the WOLF. Er... ignore the fact that the "from" doesn't fit.

So the other day I referred to someone as my chum. Yeah, it's not a word that gets tossed out there a lot, but I enjoy my oddness and kind of revel in my vocabulary. After that had slipped out, my random brain said, "Hey, wait a minute - isn't that also what you call...."

And yes, it is. So here my friends are two standard definitions of chum:

1. A close friend
2. Chopped fish, fish fluids, and other material thrown overboard as angling bait

Assuming that you would never substitute one for the other, I did a little digging.

The word chum as used in the first instance popped up in the 17th century, as slang for a roommate. It's a clipped form of "chamber mate."

The origin of the second instance (use of dead small fish and fish parts to attract larger fish) is most likely from the use of a specific type of Pacific Northwest salmon called chum Salmon.

But the two are not related at all, alas. I was so hoping for some great story about someone chopping up their roommate and making them sleep with the fishes.

How about it? Got something you want to know more about? Ask me!

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

MG Non-Fiction Author Nancy Roe Pimm On Finding Inspirational Subjects

Inspiration is a funny thing. It can come to us like a lightning bolt, through the lyrics of a song, or in the fog of a dream. Ask any writer where their stories come from and you’ll get a myriad of answers, and in that vein I created the WHAT (What the Hell Are you Thinking?) interview. Always including in the WHAT is one random question to really dig down into the interviewees mind, and probably supply some illumination into my own as well.

Today's guest for the WHAT is Nancy Roe Pimm, a MG narrative non-fiction writer who has been published in Highlights for Children, Hopscotch, Boy’s Quest, The Horseman’s Corral, Guideposts for Kids and Chicken Soup for the Soul books. Her published books include: The Indy 500-The Inside Track (Junior Libray Guild Selection), The Daytona 500- The Thrill and Thunder of the Great American Race (JLG Selection), The Heart of the Beast-Eight Great Gorilla Stories (JLG Selection). Endorsed by Jack Hanna, Colo’s Story—The Life of One Grand Gorilla (JLG Selection),  Flying Solo—The Jerrie Mock Story, and her latest book, Bonded by Battle: The Powerful Friendships of Military Dogs and Soldiers.

Ideas for our books can come from just about anywhere, and sometimes even we can’t pinpoint exactly how or why. Did you have a specific origin point for your book? 

Well I write nonfiction, so I’m always looking for stories that seem unbelievable, or I look for the “WOW” factor--something takes my breath away or keeps nagging at me in the middle of the night. Then it’s research time.  I chase it down. For instance, while watching the news one evening in my kitchen I learned that the first woman to fly around the world was a housewife from Newark, Ohio. The newscaster said that the big event had happened fifty years ago. I wondered why I had never heard of this woman and why the first person who came to my mind while thinking of around the world flights was Amelia Earhart—but she disappeared. I had to learn more about this little known lady who circumnavigated the world, solo, in a little plane five decades ago. The more I learned about Jerrie Mock, the more I needed to know. After speaking with Jerrie on the phone, I packed my bags and set out from my Ohio home to Florida, to meet and interview eighty-eight- year-old Jerrie Mock. 

Once the original concept existed, how did you build a plot around it? 

My niche is narrative nonfiction. For me the plot already happened, I need to find an engaging way to tell the story. Once I’ve been hooked on the subject, I dig deep. It’s like a treasure hunt and I won’t stop digging until I’ve uncovered some gold. I try to find little known, or quirky and interesting facts on the subject. While researching my Daytona 500 book I went to the race track as a writer instead of as a driver’s wife. I learned things I never knew, even though I worked in the pits for many years. In the past I hung out in the motor home or the car trailer, waiting for driver introductions. As a “reporter” I watched for the first time as the pit box was sprayed with cans of soda pop in preparation for the big race. The crew member explained how the sticky surface kept the pit crew from slipping and sliding while they changed four tires, made any necessary adjustments, and refueled in about 11 seconds. While digging around in the Jerrie Mock biography I learned she had eloped. She never shared that with me or with her own family. No one in her family knew her wedding anniversary date. I also discovered her flight around the world became a race against another lady pilot, a fact that made the plot even more intriguing.

Have you ever had the plot firmly in place, only to find it changing as the story moved from your mind to paper? 

When I write fiction I am a total pantser. I love being surprised by the characters or by a turn of events. In nonfiction I have to find the format that best serves the story. But when I wrote about military war dogs, the history of them and how they were trained, I found a better story inside of the story. Time and time again, I discovered the most amazing thing about military war dogs is the bond of friendship and trust they developed with the soldiers they served. So BONDED BY BATTLE made a complete turn around and focused on the soldier/dog relationships. COLO'S STORY also surprised me. I never expected the first gorilla born in captivity to have so much personality and such attitude. She gave me a lot to write about, which is a good thing because interviewing gorillas can be quite challenging.

Do story ideas come to you often, or is fresh material hard to come by? 

Fortunately or unfortunately story ideas come at me fast and furious. I find it hard to sleep at night! There are so many stories I want to write, both fiction and nonfiction, from picture book to young adult novel. I write what I am the most passionate about at the time. After all, I know I’ll be spending days and nights researching and writing so I need to love the topic.

How do you choose which story to write next, if you’ve got more than one percolating? 

Right now I am working on the biography of a World War II veteran. I met the soldier while I was writing my latest book, BONDED BY BATTLE. So, one book birthed another so to speak.  Bill sent me an e-mail and said, “Nancy, if you are serious about writing my biography, let’s get started. I’m 94 years-old!” So Bill’s story went straight to the top of the pile. Bill Wynne was a photo reconnaissance soldier who fought for two years with a Yorkshire Terrier by his side. The Yorkie became a war dog hero and is credited with being the first therapy dog. Once I have the biography complete I am anxious to revise my young adult novel and a nonfiction picture book.

2016 was not an easy year. Do you draw any inspiration from the world around you, or do you use writing as pure escapism?

I draw all of my inspiration from the world around me. Even though I am not a race car driver, (some of my friends will argue that I am a racer, just not a professional!) I found living from racetrack to racetrack something to write about. I worked at the Columbus Zoo and wrote a couple of gorilla books. I love animals and will happily write about any of them. Manatees and whooping cranes are on my radar right now. Learning about World War II from a man who lived through it has been fascinating, and I think it’s important to have a good account of what our soldiers went through fighting for our freedom. And I loved writing about a lady who followed her childhood dream and I hope Jerrie Mock’s life story will inspire others, old and young, not only to have a dream, but to believe in them, and most important, to follow them. So I’ll keep writing as long as I keep breathing. There is so much to write about—inspiration is all around us!

Monday, April 17, 2017

What I'm Up To This Week & Giveaway Roundup!

For those of you following the podcast there won't be a new episode this week, as I've been busy drafting NORTH COUNTRY, and of course had the release of GIVEN TO THE SEA last week.

If you follow me on Patreon, I'll be getting your short stories, cat pics, and monthly update video posted this week!

I have updated my Appearances page on the blog after adding a bunch of signings recently. If you're wondering if I'll be near you anytime soon, check it out.

This weekend I will be at SOKY - Southern Kentucky Book Fest!

I've also had quite a few giveaways posting last week, so am re-sharing them here!

Want to help me with all the mailing costs? I do giveaways at least once week, sometimes more. It can add up. If you feel so inclined as to donate a little to defray my mailing costs, it would be much appreciated! Donating has no impact on your chances of winning.


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Friday, April 14, 2017

Book Talk & Giveaway: YORK by Laura Ruby

My book talks are coming at you from a librarian, not a reviewer. You won't find me talking about style or craft, why I think this could've been better or what worked or didn't work. I only do book talks on books I liked and want other people to know about. So if it's here I probably think it won't injure your brain if you read it.

Tess, Theo and Jaime live in - and love - their city of York. With the mysterious technology of the genius Morningstarr twins powering it since 1798, the city boasts towering glass buildings, flying cars, twisting rail lines that run both above and below ground. Somewhere it also holds the key to the Old York Cipher, an enigmatic riddle that the Morningstarr twins left to the citizens of York before they disappeared in the 1850s, promising that whoever could solve it would find unimaginable treasure.

Tess & Theo are descended from the Morningstarrs, but that's never helped them get any further in the cipher than anyone else. They live in one of the last five original Morningstarr buildings, but a real estate developer is buying them up, and the twins - along with Jaime - decide if there was ever a time to solve the cipher, it's now.

Want to help me with all the mailing costs? I do giveaways at least once week, sometimes more. It can add up. If you feel so inclined as to donate a little to defray my mailing costs, it would be much appreciated! Donating has no impact on your chances of winning.


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