Friday, February 25, 2011

Contest Alert - And, Action!

As I've mentioned before, I love me a good contest. I recently found out about a new one on Twitter, and it's easy-peasy to enter. Georgia McBride, YA author and host of yalitchat, blogged about openings and what it means to start with action. She then threw down the gauntlet to writers. Using the parameters of a story she outlines, write four paragraphs and why you chose to start where you started.

This is the story Georgia describes: "Boy is only survivor on boat that washes ashore on strange island. Has no idea where he is and upon arrival is captured by natives tribe who raise them as their own for a few years and he falls in love with daughter of tribal leader. Once found, he must decide whether to return home or stay."

The writer's choice is where to start the story, but Georgia gives three options: A) before the voyage starts and we see the boy saying goodbye to his friends and family -including a sick mom- while learning why he's leaving; B) during the raging storm where he loses his father and flashbacks on his life before; C) on the island where he spies a tribal ceremony and his future love interest.

The first 20 people to post their four paragraphs and why they chose which beginning get a free ARC of Melinda Lo's Huntress (yay!). Georgia will pick one entry as her favorite for a chance to win a free 25 page critique by her and a chance at having it forwarded to a host of really cool agents. Not too shabby.

I've been plugging along on revisions on my WIP, and I jumped at the chance at entering. Not just because the prizes are awesome, but because writing something other than my WIP was a SHINY NEW THING. OOOOOO, SHINY NEW THING.

When I first read the scenario and options, I immediately thought of Hatchet by Gary Paulsen. The story of a boy lost in the wilds of Canada doesn't begin with the plane crash that leaves him fighting for survival. It begins with him looking out the window of the plane and thinking about why he's there.

That's why I chose Option B. I believe you have to care about the character before you care about the action. Some of the people posting didn't like B because they don't like flashbacks. Flashbacks can ruin pacing, but they can also be used to build character and tension. Like with anything else in writing, it's in the execution. Option A seems like datadumping, and Option C seems like it puts the character in jeopardy without the reader knowing (or caring) who the character is yet.

As I thought about the contest's story, I envisioned a 14 year old boy on a ship where bad things are going to happen, but he doesn't know it yet. I wrote my four paragraphs quickly (perhaps too quickly, because I see some problems that I can't do anything about now) and with this kid's voice in my head. Here's my entry:

All I can think about is vomit. Hot, sticky, usually chunky, in colors that don’t remind people of rainbows. (Well, there was that Skittle incident in junior high, but the less said about that, the better.) I had finally gotten used to the UPdownUPdownUPdown of the ship after two days of puking, but now the ship pitched UUdownPPUUdownPP in a way that had me clutching the ridiculously small toilet in my cabin in a death-grip.

Dad enters the cabin, a tinge of green under his sunburned face. Dad had his sea legs after the first day of the cruise, but I bet he regretted that all-can-you-eat breakfast buffet he had this morning. I’m not giving up the toilet, though.

“You got anymore of those pills your mom gave you?” Dad sits on the edge of his twin bed, but the ship pitches so hard he has to grab the corner of the built-in desk.

“No,” I manage to rasp out. I’d puked up the last of them about an hour ago. When my mom had packed the Dramamine pills in my rucksack, I thought she was being over-protective, as usual. I’d never been on a ship before, but she had, in the days before The Big C.

By the time I finished writing, I knew that the mom was in remission from breast cancer and the dad was a history professor booked on an educational cruise on board a replica 19th century clipper ship. And the boy, Jayce, was spending his summer vacation with his dad while his mom recuperated with her sister in Vermont. All that information would be teased out throughout the chapter. I heart you, SHINY NEW THING!

But it's time to go back to my WIP. Which is good, because I'm tearing apart the beginning (again). I realized that I need to introduce an important character much sooner. Yes, knowing where to start is an important issue, and thank you, Georgia McBride, for starting the discussion! If you want to enter Georgia's contest, she's taking entries through March 31. Good luck!

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Lost Voices Book Review


Title: Lost Voices
Author: Sarah Porter
Publisher: Harcourt Children's Books
Publication Date: July 4, 2011
ISBN-13: 978-0547482507
304pp.

ARC provided by publisher through NetGalley

This book isn't on my official Debut Author Challenge list, but I couldn't resist that cover. I mean, come on. It's gorgeous. Evocative. I had to read it.

Lost Voices is no princess mermaid book. If a reader who loves the Emily Windsnap books is looking for a read-alike, this isn't it. Lost Voices has dark, edgy mermaids who are more Siren than Little Mermaid.

The story centers on Luce, a 14-year-old girl who lives with her alcoholic uncle in a small Alaskan fishing village. Her mother died when she was young, but her father has just recently died in a shipwreck. Life with her uncle turns from horrible to horrific after one of his drunken rampages goes too far. Luce escapes him, only to inexplicably find that she has turned into a mermaid. She befriends a tribe of mermaids and learns that girls who were abused and neglected become mermaids with the power to enchant humans through song. Enchant them into crashing their ships into the rocks and throwing themselves into the ocean. Because humans, who have caused so much pain and suffering, deserve to die.

Luce discovers that she is a powerful singer, perhaps the best in the tribe, but she doesn't want to kill humans. She wants to find other songs, other enchantments, that won't leave other girls orphaned.

I won't go any further into the plot than that and avoid spoilerland. But it's a great premise, totally worthy of the promise of the book cover. Sarah Porter does a phenomenal job of world building, from the Alaskan fishing village to the depths undersea. She's a lyrical writer, which is important if you're going to write about songs that a reader has to imagine.

I do have a couple of quibbles with the book. After a very strong chapter where a group of girls are introduced, showing their transition from human to mermaid, these characters fade into the background. The book also just sort of ends, in a way that I didn't find completely satisfying. But I didn't know then that this is the first of a series. Hopefully in subsequent books the other characters will be more fully developed and the whole story arc will be stronger.

As a librarian, I would buy this book. I would recommend it to readers who like darker stories, such as The Giver or Bridge to Terabithia. If I were a 14 year-old-girl, I'd be waiting impatiently for the next book to come out.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Why White People Should Write About People of Color

I've been thinking about this topic for awhile, and since it's Black History Month, it seems like a good time to blog about it.

First, my Person of Color cred. I'm Latino, third generation, non-Spanish speaker. Most of my friends are white, I married a white guy, and I'm often told that I'm white (including by the census).

But I've never felt "white." I'm olive-skinned with dark hair. Strangers have asked me if I'm Greek, Persian, Jewish, Pakistani, Indian, Eastern European, Turkish, Filipino, Italian, and, occasionally, Mexican. I obviously don't look white. I look "other," even though people have trouble figuring out what that "other" is.

I grew up feeling that "other" because there was no one on television who looked like me except Maria on Sesame Street. There were no books about girls like me. I read Wonder Woman comics because at least she was a brunette.

Yay, 21st century! Now there's Dora the Explorer and Cheetah Girls and a double rainbow of diversity. So white people, don't be afraid of making characters, even main characters, people of color.

"But why should I?" you may ask. "If there is so much great diversity coming from people of color, then why should I, as a white person, write about people of color, too?" Good question, and I'm glad you asked.

The simple answer is because it's the world we live in, used to live in, and will be living in. If you're writing historical or contemporary fiction, the people who populate your book have to reflect the real world. Just recognize that even in your book about 18th century London, there were Asians and Africans and Arabs living there, too. If you're writing dystopian or paranormal or science fiction where there once was the world we lived in, then people of color lived there, too.

Another answer is more complicated. Many of the strangers who asked me if I was a particular ethnicity belonged to that ethnic group. A Pakistani busboy in Italy who asked me if I was Pakistani. A Persian woman in Macy's asking me for directions in Farsi. I've had this happen to me all over the world. Because people want to know if I share a common language, a culture, a connection with them. And readers want to share a connection with your characters.


"But how do I write people of color? I am from (fill in blank) and my family is (fill in blank)."

Lynn Capehart has a wonderful article to help white people write people of color. But the two things you really need are research and empathy. A recent story in the Los Angeles Times showcases how a white male soldier wrote a YA novel about an Afghan girl.

I haven't read the book, but from reading this interview, it's clear he respects his subject, feels for her story, and has the real-life research to write a compelling story.

He wrote the story because it's a story that needed to be told and no one would unless he did. If you have a story to tell about a person of color, don't be afraid to tell it because you're not that particular ethnicity.

Don't put people of color in your book if there is no reason to. But think about what would happen to your story if you added some diversity. Would it be fuller, richer, more complex, more real?

Do the research. Have the empathy. Tell the story.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Debut Author Challenge - January Update


My January pick for the Debut Author Challenge was Across the Universe by Beth Revis. And I'm still waiting to read it. I'm currently first on the hold list at my local library. No tsk, tsking me for not buying a copy. I'm a librarian. I use the library. I buy plenty of books as gifts, but I rarely buy books for myself. Because I'm a librarian. I use the library.

But I'm bummed because now I feel I'm falling behind on DAC. Enter NetGalley. I heard about this nifty service through my tweeps on Twitter. Those involved in publishing in some way (including librarians!), can sign up for free. Publishers offer online ARCs for upcoming titles that users can request. I wrote a short bio to introduce myself to publishers, who then approved my requests.

My first request, which will remain titleless, was a slow read for me. So slow that after 200 pages I finally gave up on it. When I was younger, I felt obliged to finish every book I started. I've since realized that life is too short and other books too tempting to continue with one I find a miss. It happens.

My second request has been a much happier match and I'm loving it so far. Review to come soon.

My third request was Angelfire by Courtney Allison Moulton and I can't wait to read it. I'm amending my DAC list to make this my official February read. I still hope to read How Lamar's Bad Prank Won a Bubba-Sized Trophy by Crystal Allen later this year. Because that's one awesome title.

What have you read so far this year? What are you looking forward to reading next? Leave me a comment and share your latest reads.

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