Thursday, February 28, 2013

My Favorite Books: Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone

This installment of My Favorite Books is all about the first book in a series that I resisted reading for a long time. I'm not sure why I did not pick up Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone  by J.K. Rowling until 2000 or so. I suppose it was because the series was so wildly popular. I'm naturally suspicious of overly popular things, preferring to find hidden treasures on my own. Harry Potter was too accessible, too easy. Perhaps there was a little bit of jealousy there, too. After all, here was someone that had achieved my dream--to be a middle grade fantasy author, and a wildly successful one at that.

Old Cover
Finally, I broke down and read the first book. I was transfixed. After racing through it, I kicked myself for waiting so long to read it. It has everything I love--a boy who does not realize how special he is until a magical (literally) world is revealed to him, magic, friendship, fantasy, and all those owls at the beginning! Rowling did a truly masterful job of reinventing well worn elements of myth and legend, fantasy and magic, creating something brand-spanking new. I could only tip my hat to her.

I love the fact that Harry is a down and out kid, unloved, unwanted and unnoticed, who finds friends in the most strange and wonderful circumstances. I also love that he then has to prove himself and overcome challenges that help him grow. Simply brilliant stuff.

I loved all the books, some more so than others, but each one was a revelation. This series more than any other brought me back to reading middle grade/YA fantasy again.

New Cover
More importantly, it was one of the factors that got me thinking about actually sitting down and writing a middle grade novel. I had never really believed that I could write a full length book, having only written short stories and poetry until that point.  But Harry Potter had stirred my imagination, and I started tossing around ideas in my head.

Being a slow starter, it took a year or so until I actually hit upon something I liked. When my son Christian was born early in 2002, I decided that the time had come, and began writing what would become The Deliverers: Sharky and the Jewel. At the beginning, I had some vague idea of a series, but I just wanted to see if I could write an entire novel. I did, and now I'm working on book 3!

These books are proof that children still love to read, even in this age of smart phones, video games and the internet. Of course, I daresay that any teacher could have to me that, but I think we all owe a debt of gratitude to J.K. Rowling for reminding the general public that books are still the best way to get our kids' imagination soaring.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Inklings: Outlining Your Story

Last week I talked a little about the actors on the stage of your story--the characters. Having a story idea and characters to act out that story are good things to have when you're setting out to write. So, what's next?

Think of the process of writing a story like going on a trip. You start at the beginning and drive until you reach your destination. Great, but how do you know where you're going? When is was young, my parents used a map, but today we use a GPS.

When you're writing a story, you need to know where you're going, otherwise you'll get lost. How do you keep on track? Wouldn't it be great if there was a tool to help you do it? Guess what? There is! That tool is an outline.

The outline is your map. It helps you plan. Where does your story start? Where does it end? What happens in between? You'll want to have answers to these questions before you get started.

A good way to write your outline is to chart it out in your journal. This will help you get things straight in your head. Once you have written down a basic outline of how the story will play out, you'll be ready to start writing.

Now, just because you have an outline doesn't mean you have to stick to it if you find it's not going the way you thought it would. Many times when I write, things don't happen exactly the way I planned it. Sometimes I run into detours, kind of like when the GPS recalculates your route. The key is to always keep your goal--the story's ending--in sight. No matter where my story takes me, I have my outline to guide me.

Have you ever outlined a story that you wrote? Was it helpful? Were there any surprises?

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Sneak Peek 2

At the end of last month, I gave you a sneak peek of the first part of chapter one of The Deliverers 2: Order of the Crystal Lion. Today, since I've completed the final edits on the book and submitted it to be laid out, I thought I'd share the rest of the chapter with you. Enjoy! By the way, here's the blurb that will be on the back cover of the book:

Who will fight—for the Order, for freedom?

For centuries, the Vynistri have been adding lion DNA to their servants, the Chazum, using a device they call the Machine. Now an army of Chazum and sympathetic Vynistri are waging a bloody civil war to overthrow the Vynistri’s evil ruler, Chancellor Trelango. In their latest Assignment, the Deliverers—Eric Scott, Stig the owl, Kate Endria and Hallo Tosis the dwarf—are charged with putting an end to the fighting and restoring balance to the world. Aided by a secret society called the Order of the Crystal Lion, Eric and the rest of the Deliverers must overcome tragedy and loss to fight for freedom and equality. Spurring them on is the Order’s belief that the long awaited Crystal Lion has arrived to deliver the world. Is this true, or will Trelango destroy them all?

The Deliverers 2: Order of the Crystal Lion

Chapter 1 Part 2

When he arrived home, he dragged his equipment past his mother without a word, into his room, and flung himself on his bed.
He stared up at the ceiling, and rubbed his eyes with his hand. His eyes blinked a couple of times, then closed.
Tap, tap. Tap.
Eric’s eyes opened. What was that? He sat up and looked around, but did not see anything.
Tap, tap. Tap.
There it was again. Where was it coming from? Eric got up.
Tap, tap. Tap.
It sounded like it was coming from the window. Eric went over to it and looked out. There, perched on a bush, sat a large white owl.
With a shout, Eric opened the window. The owl flew into the room and landed on the bed. “What took you so long? I was starting to get cold,” the owl said.
“Sorry Stig. I couldn’t figure out what that tapping sound was for a minute.”
“Well, well, not to worry. I wasn’t really all that cold. Feathers really make marvelous insulation.”
“I guess they would,” Eric said.
“So, how have you been my boy?”
“Oh, okay, I guess. Things have been a little strange. My mom’s getting a little freaky. She’s making me hang out with my cousins.”
“Splendid, splendid. It’s good to see that she’s encouraging you to get out a little bit.”
“But my cousins aren’t really into the same stuff as me,” Eric explained.
“Well, but one cannot be afraid to try new things. Otherwise, you never would have accompanied me on your first Assignment,” Stig said. “Don’t you agree?”
“Oh, um, I suppose. But don’t you think…” Eric paused.
“Don’t I think, what?” Stig asked.
“Never mind. So what brings you here?”
“Ah yes. What indeed.” Stig ruffled his feathers and moved a little closer to Eric. “The Gatekeeper has need of us.”
A thrill of excitement coursed through Eric. The Gatekeeper had sent Eric on his first Assignment that past summer to save a small fishing village called Calendria from an evil band of pirates. “You mean, he wants to send us on another Assignment?”
“Quite so,” Stig said. “Everyone else has been assembled, and I was sent to pick you up, that is, if you are up for it?”
“You bet! Let’s go!” Eric said. He was up and headed for his bedroom door, then stopped short and turned to Stig. “Did you say that everyone else has been assembled?”
“Yes, yes I did,” Stig replied, a knowing glint in his golden eyes.
“So, it’s not just us that are being sent on the Assignment.”
“Oh no, this looks to be quite a big job, so the Gatekeeper thought reinforcements might be needed on this one.”
“Reinforcements, so, like, who?” Eric asked, although he hoped he knew the answer.
“Why, Kate and Hallo, of course,” the owl replied. “I thought you might have guessed. I did tell you that your paths might cross again one day.”
“Awesome!” Eric said, pumping his fist in the air. “I was kind of hoping they’d be coming. This is going to be so cool. It’ll be just like the last time, better even! We’re all going on an Assignment. Sweet!”
“Well, yes, I’m glad you’re excited. I must admit that I am rather excited myself,” Stig said. “But remember that each Assignment is very serious, not a romp in the park. You may recall your first Assignment fondly, and I daresay I do as well, but it was not without its dangers and trials, if you recall. Assignments are perilous things.
“You should also know that nothing stays the same. Circumstances and people change. You’ve changed, too, if I’m not totally mistaken.”

Friday, February 22, 2013

A Writer's Week #59: Back Home Where I Belong

Another week has gone winging by. Where does the time go? I spent a lot of time this week moving forward and also moving back. First I'll talk about the backward bit.

As you may or may not have noticed, since Tuesday I have been posting on The Deliverers Blog rather than my new, spiffy author's site. Why the change back to my old digs? To tell you the truth, it felt kind of weird to be posting on a new site. I kind of like the design of the original blog, and I've built up a nice following over the year plus that I've been posting. The only drawback was that I had used the name of my first and so far only book, The Deliverers: Sharky and the Jewel as the blog title and address. Now that my second book is almost ready to be released, having the blog named after the first book did not feel right. I figured I'd start an author blog, but like I said earlier it felt strange, almost like I had moved to a new house, but still loved the old one.

So, I've moved my posting activity back to this blog and cut out the Sharky and the Jewel part of the name. I also decided to get a custom URL that was not quite as long as the old one. Unfortunately and are both in use, so I decided to go with to reflect my growing collection of books. I've still got standing in the wings waiting for a day when I will find the proper use for it--maybe as a site for the historical middle grade novel I'm planning when the Deliverers series is complete. Stay tuned!

Now to things that are moving forward--the book writing and publishing fronts. I have received the last of the feedback  on The Deliverers 2: Order of the Crystal Lion from my test readers! Thank you so much all of you who dedicated so much time to reading and evaluating the book! The group was made up of both children and adults and their impression of the book was mostly favorable. There were one or two areas that I'm shoring up based on their feedback.

Now all that remains is to finish editing, write the back cover blurb and the thank you page. I'm planning to get all that done this weekend. The cover is almost complete and then Daniel Vogel will start on the map. Once that's done, I'll send the manuscript over to his mother Ana to lay out whenever she can fit it in to her busy schedule. Depending on the timing of the artwork, I'm thinking I should have some proof copies by the last week of March, first week of April. I wish it could be sooner, but I know it will be worth the wait.

The Deliverers 3 is coming along. I only managed to write 2,100 words, but that's still more than my weekly goal of 2,000, so I guess I should be satisfied. It was slow going. One of the characters talks about himself and the relationship he had growing up with another character in a conversation with Stig and Hallo. I'm worried I may have slowed down the pace of the book, although the information given will be important later on. I'm going to see if my wife can read it and give me some feedback. She's always brutally honest and this genre is not her cup of tea so she won't sugarcoat it.

Anyhow, here are the stats on the book thus far: 22,100 words, 97 pages, 21 chapters. With all the work I'm going to do on the second book, I'm not sure how much writing I'll get done in the coming week, but I'll be sure to fill you in next Friday. Have a great weekend!

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Inklings: Characters, the Actors in Your Story

Editor's note: Here's a post from yesterday that appeared on my other blog. I'm posting it again here, because I have decided to publish most of my posts on this blog. Oh, by the way, the new url for this site is Your old bookmark will take you to this site automatically, so there's no need to update anything.

Once you've got an idea for your story, and you've captured some information about it in your journal, you'll need to develop some characters. These are the individuals who will act out your story. I am often asked where my characters come from. There's no easy answer. A character could come to you at any time, from anywhere.

It's rather an exciting thought, really. You never know when one will pop up. Sometimes, a character will lead to an idea for a story. This is what happened in the case of my fantasy series, The Deliverers. Stig, a talking owl, was a character in some short stories I'd written. It was when I decided to find out just who he was and where he came from that I got the idea for The Deliverers.

Other times, you might have an idea for an adventure, but have no real idea who will be taking part. So, where do those characters come from?  Part of being a writer is observing the world. You do it every day, although you might not realize it.

You meet all sorts of people during your day. Some are funny, some are quiet, some are smart, some mysterious. Others are creepy. When you notice someone interesting, pull out your journal and capture what was so interesting about them by writing it down. Maybe it was something they did or said. Later, when you get a chance, go back to your journal and flesh out that character by adding other little details. If he/she was funny, how did they get that way, what other traits might they have? Where are they from? Are they human or are they something else?

You'll find that you can build an entire personality from one or two bits of information. It can spark your imagination and voila--you've got the start of a living, breathing character. Over time, as you give them things to do within your story, they'll grow and change--sometimes in ways you don't expect. That's what's so fun about creating characters--the actors in your story. Give it a try.

What are your favorite characters? Leave a comment below. I'd love to hear from you!

Saturday, February 2, 2013

A Writer's Week #56: A Host of Possibilities

Hello. My apologies for not posting last night, but I was at a big Lion's club function to kick off the Connecticut Lion's Mid-Winter Conference. It's a big to-do, so I went and checked it out. Lots of fun stuff going on including a fantastic performance by the National Theater of the Deaf.

This week was one of unexpected possibilities. On the one hand, sales of the audio book continue to be slow and winter is a hard time to try and sell anything as shows and other venues are few and far between. On the other hand, I've got one great blog that's agreed to review the audio book in the near future, and I am going to be asking a few other bloggers to review it as well. If anyone blogs about books, please consider reviewing the audio version of The Deliverers: Sharky and the Jewel. Please leave a comment or send me a message on Facebook.

I am also getting ready to crank up the school visit caravan. I've got three class visits lined up so far, with more on the horizon. I'll keep you updated on how that goes. I'm even more excited than usual about these visits this year, because I'm planning to add a little more multimedia. I'm still figuring it out, but I want to use the audio book and the blog. I've used the blog before, but to have an audio book available to get the kids interested should be helpful--especially when I visit younger classrooms. I've designed an interactive map of Calendria that will be a nice tool to use, too. It's going to be posted on my new author's website. More on that in a bit.

I also spoke with Sharron Lavatori, a good friend of mine and a learning design professional, who is going to help me design a little curriculum based on The Deliverers and this blog. Apparently, I've managed to incorporate a lot of varied learning elements into my blog. Who knew? I was just trying to make it fun and interesting for kids. So I'm really excited about the possibilities.

With the help of a professional like Sharron, I hope to one day be able to offer a more robust curriculum. That way, in addition to my standard informal chats about writing and what students can do to write for fun on their own, I will also be able to offer a more formal program that I could present to an entire grade. We'll see what happens with that.

On the writing front, The Deliverers 3: The Golden Dragon of Ang has hit its first snag. I've been breezing along without a care in the world for weeks now. I managed to write 2,400 words, which brings me to 14,400 words, 64 pages, and 13 chapters, but I ended the week feeling a little disappointed. I was sure I was going to make 15,000 words, but I think I lost my way a little.

Here's what got me. Eric and Kate met someone who was supposed to be real fierce and tough. Everybody is afraid of this guy. Even his name is tough--the Fang. He's really threatening them and giving them a hard time. Then, somewhere along the line he does a 180, starts treating them better, and now I think he might wind up being an ally of sorts. I always say that characters have a life of their own, and sometimes they do things that surprise me. This is one of the few times though where I've said, "No! This should not be happening! He's got to be a mean guy."

So, I'm going to have to take some time and evaluate what I've got. Is he really mean and evil, is he their friend, or is he playing his own game? I'm thinking I know the answer even as I type this, but I have to figure out how to work it all out. Stay tuned.

Oh, one last thing. I'm putting the finishing touches on my author website. In a week or two, I'll be transitioning most of my weekly posts over to that site. Now, don't worry, this blog will still be around. I plan to use it as a base for information about the worlds in my books. Here you'll see in depth info about Calendria and the Lands Beyond, Vynistra City (from The Deliverers 2) and eventually the Dragon Islands (from The Deliverers 3). I'll let you know when the change takes place, and give you a tour. Have a great week!