Books -- reading and writing.
Home, cooking, the weather.
And whatever connections I can make between these chapters of my life.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Part 2 on Previous Post, re: BOY BOOKS

If you haven't had an opportunity to read  my previous post and click on the link  about writing books for boys, here's another teaser from David Elzey's interesting take on writing books for boys.

There are readers, many of them boys, who will pick up that book and judge it by its girth, by its font size, by the amount of white on the page. As a former bookseller, if I had a dollar for every boy I ever witnessed fan a book’s pages as a method for deciding whether or not to read it, I’d have enough money today to buy a small publishing house.
Thomas Newkirk in Misreading Masculinity notes that, for many boy readers, “unless you are reading fluently in late elementary school, getting an assignment to read a two-hundred page book will just defeat you.”
Mind you, that’s not two-hundred manuscript pages, that’s two hundred final printed pages. With middle grade boys that means hewing closer to the 20,000 word range as opposed to the 30,000 or 40,000 words that has been typical for middle grade books.

I know writers wring their hands about word count/ page count/ size. 
I like what I've heard writer Greg Neri say more than once: "A book needs to be what it needs to be." Or something close to that. Meaning, you can't force a YA novel into a picture book format. Or a long fantasy into a short adventure? The book will tell you what it wants to be. Eventually. That's a key word. It may take a while. You may have to wait.

But when you start the revision part, whittling down, getting rid of the excess, does that 20,000 word range surprise you? Do you even notice? Or is it all about writing the book that needs to be, not worrying about the size.

(And just a note from somebody--me-- who knows a lot more girl readers, up close and personal, than I do boy readers: I've seen a fair number of girls fan books, check for page numbers, and put them aside.)

Thoughts on size, and whether it matters, anyone?

Off the top of your head, recommendations for short boy books?
Most of the books by Barbara O'Connor?
The Liberation of Gabriel King, by K.L. Going?

What else?

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Boy Books

Yes, it's long. But anybody interested in creating a boy character, a boy-preferred novel, or in cultivating boy readers needs to read this post. Seriously good stuff.

Originally written as part of his Vermont College thesis, this is David Elzey's expanded version.  
Click this link for his blog.

(This is what happens when I decide to clean out emails, straighten file cabinets, tidy my desktop. I find amazing stuff I might have overlooked. Don't you just love when that happens?)

My rainy Saturday gift to fellow writers. Here's a bit of what he says about boy readers. If this doesn't make you click that link, you may be missing a whole segment of your reading population:

They’ll say they hate books and reading, and the next thing you know they’re driving books like Jeff Kinney’s Diary of a Wimpy Kid or Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson series onto the bestsellers list.

They’ll ask for something exactly like what they just finished reading, a beginning reader series like the Time Warp Trio or Geronimo Stilton, and then quickly lose interest because they’ve discovered and become bored with the formula.

They’ll read a page of grade-level text aloud in a halting stammer, then read the sports section of the newspaper as smoothly as professional television announcers.

The conundrum that is a boy reader is enough to drive any adult mad.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Meet Your Characters: Refrigerator Doors

Remember all those Getting to Know Your Characters exercises. Fact Sheets.
What did he eat for breakfast?
What's her favorite color? Music? Relative?

I mostly hate doing that.

One question I sometimes think about is what's in your character's fridge? Bacon? Organic food? Leftovers from Whole Foods.

But here's another thing I'm pondering: What's on your character's fridge?

(Unless your character has a stainless steel refrigerator. That may just ruin my theory of getting to know people from the interesting things posted on refrigerators.)

My own always had pictures of my kids, my pets, emergency phone numbers, quotes and funny pictures.
What do you think? Can you learn about a character from a refrigerator door?
One I recently visited was filled with emergency numbers, pictures, all the usual. But it also told me another thing or two:

She collects these great Snoopy comics.

For sure, she's dog lover.

And a character begins to take shape.

(Note to friend: Don't worry. You are not becoming a character in my novel.☺)

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

More Thoughts on Book Reviews: The Art of Fielding

It seemed like a perfect book. Baseball, but literary fiction. High praises from every single reviewer. The New York Times review was long, intriguing, and included the phrase: slow, precious and altogether excellent first novel.

A baseball book that really wasn't about baseball.

So last night when I finally finished all my Required Reading (6 YA/Middle grade novels for review, 2 grown-up Southern books), I grabbed my Kindle (at over 500 words, The Art of Fielding seemed like the perfect e-book).

I read two sample chapters and liked it. I was poised to hit the "buy" button, but it was quite late and the book's still $12.99. Buy or wait? I scrolled through the 40+ reader reviews.

Okay. I know I've come close to blasting reader reviews on this very blog. But these were not only mostly articulate, they were signed! And almost all really slammed the pre-pub hype surrounding this novel.

I decided to wait. Maybe give it a try from the library. Anybody else read The Art of Fielding?
And I wonder if a lot of those reader reviews were from disappointed baseball fans. I suspect this book is about a whole lot more than sports.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Happy birthday, Dr. Jack!

 If ever there were a real character in my life, my daddy was it. I could write a book about him: his colorful language, his love of animals, his musical talents, his amazing medical education and skill.

Recently I re-read a funny story Eudora Welty, a woman of his generation, told about herself. As a young child, she loved to sit in the backseat of the family car, her mother and her mother's friend on each side, for drives around Jackson. "Now talk," she'd say, and of course, she'd listen.

That's the way I felt about Sunday dinners around our family table: "Now talk!"
All I wanted to do was listen.

I still have people I don't even know tell me how much they loved Dr. Jack. Maybe he'd set a broken arm, perhaps he'd delivered them (for a while, he was the only doctor in our little town who delivered babies), stitched up a cut, charmed off a wart (yes, he did). His medical talent was legend. His training was as a chest physician; he considered himself a country doctor.

He married late by today's standards, and sadly, died young. Today would be his100th birthday. In honor of this momentous occasion, I'll share some memories.

Once he brought a pet monkey into our family. Our mother refused to let it into the house. A patient of his took it and raised it, naming it "Jackie." In fact, he frequently claimed to find exotic pets on the side of the road. We had rabbits, parakeets, Dobermans, a chihuahua (supposedly good for my allergies, justification for owning this tiny canine even before they became celebrity pets), a very large long-haired Persian cat. He adored four-legged things so much that once he anesthetized an injured fawn and set her broken leg, in the same office where he treated his human patients.

Besides the colorful language, my dad had a few other questionable traits. He smoked White Owl cigars. This was before the Surgeon General's report came out and physicians collectively chose to oppose smoking. After that, Daddy stopped, and encouraged his patients to follow suit.

The only time I've ever really written about my father was a Christian Science Monitor essay a few years ago. It was mostly about Elvis, but I did write this about my dad:

Music was in my blood. My father had lived in New Orleans before settling into the life of a small town country doctor. With him, I sang along with Louis Armstrong’s “Do You Know What It Means to Miss New Orleans?” on the radio. Before I could walk, I danced on the tops of my father’s polished shoes to the beat of Fats Waller’s band. I thought Blue-Room-of-the-Roosevelt-Hotel, where my dad had worked as a ticket taker to earn college spending money and free admission, was an elaborately exotic word for a place I longed to visit.

In the picture below, that's Dr. Jack, back row, middle, the handsome young man hanging with his college friends, all dressed up for dancing at the Blue Room.

(I wrote this blogpost originally for a different birthday but since I've been thinking a lot about Daddy today, I'm replaying it. Just rereading it makes me smile.)

Tuesday, October 18, 2011


Without even realizing I was on a literary tour, I've visited several of the spots:

Eudora Welty's house in Jackson
Faulkner's in Oxford
And now Flannery O'Connor's last family home in Milledgeville, GA.

Having reread THE HABIT OF BEING last winter, I set my sights on visiting Flannery O'Connor's hometown. Fortunately we have gracious friends who grew up in Milledgeville. Our host had even spent time sitting on the front porch of Andalusia as a young boy fascinated/ freaked by the peacocks a while back. Great tour guides. I hope we get invited back to explore via the trolley and poke around inside the church where the evil General Sherman stabled his horses. (Oh, the horror!)

Call me a southern author groupie if you must, but something about seeing how O'Connor faced her typewriter to the wall so as not to be tempted by the beauty of nature outside her first floor window spoke to me. Though how she plotted to the tune of peacocks remains a mystery.

Eudora Welty's garden and home are must-see spots in Jackson.
Oxford, MS, sports a statue of Faulkner on the Square, though he was not universally loved by his home state.
A great way to travel the south. I plan to check out a few more spots on the Southern Literary Trail.

Who out there's visited some of the many author birthplaces, homes, gardens open to the public?
Inspiration? Voyeurism? An excuse to eat fried okra and turnip greens at your author's favorite cafe?

Here's a post from my reading of The Habit of Being.
And another, here- random thoughts about writing like Flannery.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Tales from School, Part 1.

Remember the class I visited last month to present the Glory Be ARC their teacher had won on my blog giveaway?

I now have fan letters.

Which is completely amazing and a little weird. Having been on the other end of Author Visits for my almost twenty years of school librarianing, it's quite eye-opening to sit in the interviewee chair. Since they hadn't read the book, I shared my road to publication, my writing advice, and answered their very inquisitive questions.

I can't resist sharing a couple of the kids' wise comments. More to come, of course.

I think your book is going to be really popular. You helped me when you said you kept trying and didn't give up. Now when I get frustrated I don't rip up the paper. I punch my pillow and keep on trying.

It has been nice to actually meet the woman that Mrs. C. has been going on and on about for the last few weeks. I really wonder if the book Glory Be is as good as you said it was.

and one more for today:

Thank you for coming to the class... I am glad that you are giving our teacher the first copy of Glory Be. Being an author must be great.
Your #1 Fan
PS I like your hair cut.

Out of the mouths of babes and all that.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Great Book Reviewing

Since I kind of trashed reviewers with an ax to grind in this recent post, I'd like to take my hat off to the professional writers and the lovers of reading who know good books and know how to write about them.

Here's one fine example, in my recent UNC alumni publication, ENDEAVORS. Click here for their review of Minrose Gwin's book, Queen of Palmyra.

My favorite line:

"Some stories burn hot, cooking down quick and clean to a tidy, well-timed end. And some, like this one of Gwin's, smolder like a pot forgotten on the back of the stove."

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Seen on a bumper sticker...

In anticipation of The Drive:

And this one, from a friend in Atlanta:

You don't have to go fast, you just have to go.

Related posts: Bumper stickers

Saturday, October 1, 2011

More Periods, Less Conjunctions?

Although this writing coach doesn't specialize in writing fiction, Ann Wylie's advice frequently makes me sit up and take notice. I also love some of the less well-known quotes she digs up. Like this one, from one of the many writing books next to my desk:

“There’s not much to be said about the period, except that most writers don’t reach it soon enough.”
William Zinsser, author of On Writing Well

If you write for business, you may already know about her writing newsletter, but this one caught my attention. Click here to read what she says about Shorter Sentences.
(You may need to scroll around a bit, but her site is worth it.)

Now, excuse me while I depart the blog. I believe I have some conjunctions to "search and destroy."

Click here for my older post about Ann Wylie's newsletter, with a link to another website where I just wasted quite a few precious minutes. But totally fun minutes.