Fun Stuff: Give-Aways

I have some spiffy new bookplates!

They’re small enough to fit on the book’s endpapers but large enough for really generous personalization. If you’ve bought any of my books and would like one of these, let me know with personalization details and I’ll get one out to you.bookmarks

And for Carry Me Home – I have these sweet pins of paper cranes, plus bookmarks. Pre-orders are being taken now at my hometown indie Country Bookshelf – in the notes when you order just let them know how you’d like the book to be personalized and I’ll throw in other fun stuff for you. The book is out August 24 and will ship to you right away.

pins

Pre-Order CARRY ME HOME Here

Have Others of My Books??

For those of you with either of my Rookskill Castle books (The Charmed Children of Rookskill Castle, or The Artifact Hunters), in addition to a signed bookplate I’ve got:

  • Magnets
  • Bookmarks
  • Pins
  • Temporary tattoos
  • Stickers

Let me know you’ve given any of my books an honest review on Amazon or Goodreads and I’ll send you an entire package of goodies.swag goodies

If you are a teacher or librarian (just let me know), I have other give-aways, including:

  • Card packs with QR code leading to an audio spooky short story
  • Mini-lessons for several of my books

Just click here to contact me regarding any of the above:

Contact Me

Please do remember to “help-an-author” and pre-order Carry Me Home. With my thanks!

Coming Soon: Carry Me Home

In one month, my next novel Carry Me Home, comes out. That’s my ninth book out in the world!

I have 2 ARCs to give away, with some swag! The first 2 commenters here with snail mail addys, win those ARCs!

I really love and am proud of this book and of Lulu, the twelve-year-old girl who is my main character. And while it sounds like a sad book – Lulu, her sister Serena, and their father living in a car – it has a positive ending.

Kirkus said: “Fox offers a message via Jack when he learns about Lulu’s life: “No one should have to live in a car.” Cranes…represent wishes granted and a kind of grace, leading to a satisfying, redemptive conclusion nicely pitched to a young audience.”

Homelessness

…is an issue facing so many right now. Between the pandemic and loss of jobs and housing costs, so many people can’t afford a place to live. This isn’t right.

I’m hoping that Carry Me Home raises awareness. That kids who read it will learn to understand what it means to be homeless, and if they are homeless that they find ways to seek support.cover of book Carry Me Home

But the novel is not just an “issue” book. It’s also a story about friendship and family, and the strength of one young girl in taking care of herself and her sister in the only way she can.

Preorders and Reviews

…help an author enormously.

If you are planning to buy the book, I’d love it if you’d preorder it. And I’d love to sign it to you, to someone as a gift, to your teacher or your school, and if you order from my indie, Country Bookshelf, I can do that.

And here’s a special offer: if you are willing to write an honest review, let me know in the comments and include your snail mail addy, and I will send you a bookmark and a pin and some other swaggy gifts.

Plus: I have 2 ARCs to give away, with some swag! The first 2 commenters here with snail mail addys, win those ARCs!

Thanks for all your support!

Writers Craft Question: What Is “Head-hopping”?

I thought I’d write about the question of “head-hopping” because I see it often in less experienced writers. Head-hopping is moving in a narrative, without breaks, from one character’s point of view into another.

This is not the same as writing from an omniscient point of view, in which the story is told in third person from the point of view of a god-like narrator who is not a character in the story. Generally, omniscient point of view (POV) feels old-fashioned and distancing, which is why it is not used often in modern literature. For examples of this POV, look to Jane Austen or Charles Dickens.

Head-hopping is to be avoided.

There are some notable exceptions to the rule against head-hopping in modern literature. If you are Ann Patchett, you can get away with moving from one character’s POV to another’s, but only if you are Ann Patchett (see Bel Canto).

What’s Wrong With Head-Hopping?

In a word, it’s confusing. Especially in books written for young readers.

Whether you choose to write in first person POV or third person POV makes no difference, although it’s easier to make the mistake of head-hopping in third. And if you choose to write the story from multiple points of view, that, too, takes consideration and care.head with "ideas"

If you do choose to write in multiple POVs, use a chapter or section break to indicate the change in POV. In books for young readers it’s best to label the chapter or section so that readers can follow the narrative without pausing.

Because pausing while reading is an invitation to put the book aside. Ugh.

What About More Than One Protagonist?

Nope. A story can only have one protagonist. Yes, this is a rule.

However, you can write from multiple POVs, including the antagonist’s – you just have to know who your protagonist is and know that the arc of the story is hers alone. The protagonist carries the burden of change, of having external and internal conflicts, etc.

And the protagonist carries the majority of words in a story, which means you are in the protagonist’s POV most of the time.

How To Avoid Head-hopping

When writing from, say, a third person POV with another character in scene, double check that you haven’t suddenly moved from one to the next. That your reader is seeing things only through the eyes of the character carrying that scene.

It’s that simple, but also that hard, and awareness of the issue is key to avoiding the problem.

For more on POV read my detailed post here. Questions??

P.S. For an example of incredibly crafted point of view I highly recommend N.K. Jemisin’s The Fifth Season (but only for adults).

Writers: What’s Your Core Value?

While I was earning my MFA at Vermont College of Fine Arts, Marion Dane Bauer was on the faculty, and she gave a lecture on finding the heart of your work by finding the heart of what moves you. It often comes from your past, and is an issue that you deal with or have dealt with most of your life.

This lecture struck me back then, but not until recently did I realize just how important this idea is for any writer.

Backstory Wounds

If you’ve ever been in therapy, you’re probably familiar with the concept of the “wounded child” and the wound that you carry through life. The wound comes from an experience or set of experiences that you suffered and that you still deal with, and that can negatively affect your adult interactions and behaviors. Some examples of wounds include bullying, abuse, neglect, poverty.

In her book Story Genius, Lisa Cron (in one of my favorite craft books) took the concept of the wounded child and applied it to characters. Characters, like the rest of us, have what she terms “backstory wounds” that then influence their behavior in story.

book cover

Core Value

When Marion described the wound that became a large influence in her life she told the audience that hers was wrapped around the concept of abandonment. In her writing, she discovered that every one of her characters at some level deals with the same wound – feeling abandoned or abandoning someone else.

I’ve decided to call this wound, for the writer, our “core value”. Like the backstory wound, it influences us, but it also influences our writing, and in particular the emotional core of our writing and of our characters.

If we can uncover our core value, we can use it to develop deeper characters and richer emotional experiences for our readers.

Finding Core Values

Marion admitted her core value was around the issue of abandonment. A writer friend who often writes about death and loss recently identified hers as “death”, and I would suggest, knowing her work, the fear of death or loss. After some soul searching I discovered that my own core value is wrapped around the issue of “identity” – “who am I/what will I be”.

This is the question my characters ask constantly in my books. Kat in The Charmed Children of Rookskill Castle asks herself whether she believes in magic enough to save her family and friends (and also confronts her inner dark side). Lulu in my forthcoming Carry Me Home asks herself whether she has the strength to carry on in the face of the loss of all comfort and protection (and confronts her mistaken belief that she has to go it alone).

An Exercise For Writers

To explore your core value find a time in your young life when you felt the most vulnerable. Write a letter to yourself from where you are now, telling that inner child that it will be okay. As you write, you won’t be able to really keep the wound in mind but when you step away, the wound will emerge and with it your core value.

Do some self-care as you explore this, as it can be difficult.

Once you’ve discovered your core value, see how it applies to your work in progress. Make it the core value of your protagonist, and of all your protagonists to come.

Remember that emotion on the page comes from the emotion in your heart.

I’d love to hear what you come up with.

Wintergarden and Neal Porter Books

I’m thrilled to be able to share this news!

Wintergarden was written during the pandemic, as I was growing my own microgreens and herbs and flowers indoors during the winter. I hope it will inspire young readers and gardeners everywhere!orchid in greenhouse

“Neal Porter at Holiday House/Neal Porter Books has signed Wintergarden by Janet Fox, about a child’s experience growing an indoor garden in the winter months, illustrated by Jasu Hu. Publication is scheduled for fall 2023; Erin Murphy at Erin Murphy Literary represented the author, and Marzena Torzecka at the Marlena Agency represented the illustrator in the deal for world rights.”

Stay tuned for sneak peeks and indoor gardening tips!

 

 

 

A Writing Prompt For Young Writers

Simon and Schuster, publishers of Carry Me Home (coming August 24) invited me to make a short video with a writing prompt inspired by the novel. I chose to focus on the wish that my main character, Lulu, makes and how she uses the ancient Japanese art of origami to help with that wish.

Here’s the video – suitable for ages 7 and up (and for any kids who love to write, or need a little encouragement) – with the explanation and prompt:


Since wishing is a common device in story-crafting, here’s a way to turn that prompt on its head. Thinking of the adage “be careful what you wish for” craft a story with a wish that goes wrong. You wish for a puppy, but you get a wolf; you wish for a handsome prince, but you have to kiss a frog; you wish for eternal life, but you have to sell your soul – you get the idea. This would make a fun writing exercise for older writers.

Have fun with it, and do share your stories!

Kirkus gave Carry Me Home a nice review: “Fox offers a message via Jack when he learns about Lulu’s life: “No one should have to live in a car.” Cranes—paper ones that Lulu and Selena fold, inspired by both the story of Hiroshima survivor Sadako Sasaki and the sandhill cranes migration—represent wishes granted and a kind of grace, leading to a satisfying, redemptive conclusion nicely pitched to a young audience.”

You can pre-order a signed copy of Carry Me Home here.

Theme, or More To the Point

Confession: I think theme is the hardest thing to define when writing a story.

Often I don’t know the true story theme until I’m well into revision. What’s that you say? How can I write a novel without knowing what I’m writing about?

Great question.

Starting With Character

Honestly, I think all great stories are about the main character, their external and internal arcs, their emotional trajectory in particular (for more on that, see this post). Without seeing emotion on the page, without an understanding of what the character wants and how they set about getting it, most of us will not read on.

But every story must have a point, and as the author it’s incumbent upon me to find it, define it, and make it clear.pencil point

A few weeks ago I talked about the “Beat Sheet” in Save The Cat. Number 2 on the Beat Sheet list is “theme stated”, and it occurs on page 5 of a screenplay, which equates roughly to page 10-15 of a novel. So, if I don’t know what my story is about, how can I place that all-important theme or point on the page?

The good news is, that can come with revision. The bad news is – it must be found.

Defining the Point

I will need to know what I’m trying to say when I write a new novel, but for me, for my process, that often means getting something on the page first. Many (not all) of my ideas come from an image or a scene that pops into my head and resonates. A lot of those images arise from my subconscious and usually that means in dreams. That was true for The Charmed Children of Rookskill Castle, which was formed around the image of the chatelaine, and children in magical jeopardy during World War 2. It wasn’t until I was well into writing that I recognized the theme, which is “The power is within you”.

And I will say this: themes can usually be expressed very simply, and often by cliché – such as “There’s no place like home”, or “You can’t judge a book by its cover”.

My newest work in progress just gained its theme, which is “Be the one who stands in the way of evil.” I found it while trying to summarize the story in a short 50 word paragraph (as in book jacket content) – a great exercise I highly recommend.

Hopefully you’ll be able to judge for yourself whether I’ve made that point.

How about you? When and how do you discover your story’s theme?

Dystopia or Utopia?

Today in the news: I heard an interesting report about a gene editing technique that has allowed scientists to alter retinal cells in nearly blind volunteers, with the hope that those altered cells will reverse the genetically induced blindness.

Like you are probably thinking now, I thought, wow. Cool. A little freaky, but cool.

A few weeks ago I had my second Pfizer vaccine jab for Covid-19, which uses an mRNA gene to create antibodies to the virus, and has been shown to be over 90% effective in preventing the disease.

The Dystopian Idea

Gene altering technology is both fascinating and frightening, especially if you have an active imagination. At its best, this technology could reduce or eliminate genetically and environmentally induced illnesses. At its worst, we can imagine using gene editing for socially destructive purposes (eliminating “certain types” of genes that are “undesirable”, for example.)ARK book cover

Several years ago I wrote a YA science fiction novel about using nanotechnology to serve a similar purpose. It was super fun to write, and I decided to simply launch it on Amazon myself, since it was slightly out of my usual genre. You can find it here. While nanotech and mRNA tech are quite different, they both operate at microscopic levels. We can’t see it with the naked eye; could it be safe?

The thing is, we humans can imagine both the worst and the best outcomes of scientific breakthroughs, because we’ve seen other humans act at both extremes. But as a former scientist, married to a scientist, I truly believe that science used responsibly will save us. Take the Covid vaccine as an example, and its mRNA technology.

The Scientific Imagination

From an article in The Atlantic: “For more than 40 years, synthetic RNA couldn’t do anything useful. In 1978, Katalin Karikó was a young scientist at the Biological Research Centre in Szeged, Hungary, when she started working on the idea that it could.” Now that technology may be used to treat malaria, cancer, and multiple sclerosis, in addition to producing a life-saving vaccine against the SARS-Co-V2.

My novel ARK is, yes, dystopian, and explores the ways in which these technologies could be distorted for the worst. But I also tried to weave into the story the ways in which these technologies can save the planet, and us. I believe in science. I also believe that we must be sure it is used with oversight.

Have fun reading my dystopian novel – a pure product of imagination – while celebrating the genius of real-life science used responsibly. And let me know what you think!

A Paper Folding Project For Everyone

In my upcoming novel Carry Me Home (August 24, Simon & Schuster) my main character, Lulu, and her sister Serena and their dad live in a car. When dad disappears Lulu feels the pressure of taking care of herself and Serena, while keeping their predicament hidden.

book cover

Lulu wants her dad to return, and she wants a home, and she had just begun to find her own gifts in a new school with new friends, but things look bleak. When she learns about the Japanese belief that by making 1000 origami paper cranes a wish will come true, Lulu begins to make paper cranes, hoping for any and all of these wishes – for a home, for her dad, for a stable life in their new town – to come true.

Although China, among other cultures, also developed paper folding, it was Japan that took paper folding to the level of an art form and gave it the name “origami”. I discovered origami as a child and fell in love with it. Origami can be tricky, and takes some practice, but it’s also satisfying.

You can make all sorts of animals and objects with origami, and origami kits are available an most indie booksellers.

You can download these instructions that I pulled together from several sources – including photographs of the paper crane I made – to make your own origami crane.

I’d love to see yours if you want to share!

Guest Post: K. MacCabe on John Scalzi’s HEAD ON

When my son (pen name K. MacCabe) was very young, Star Trek, Next Generation was in syndication and playing every night right at dinner prep time. That one-hour show became his thing, and I had the peace and quiet to get ready for the evening.

Little did I know that by doing so I was raising not only a Trekkie but a devoted fan of science fiction.

Today he is my writing buddy, with a serious talent for writing, among other genres, science fiction. He’s currently on track to carve out a career as a writer, and for my part, he is a fantastic second reader and a partner in my coaching business.

I’ve invited him to come on my blog from time to time, and today he wanted to share a book review, so here he is, writing about Head On, by John Scalzi.

A science fiction thriller set in a not-so-distant future, draped in a murder mystery and confronting social issues that add to the depth of the novel overall. The book itself is straightforward in its narrative construction, but that is by no means a weakness. In fact, it uses its simplicity beautifully to tackle social issues in a manner in which sci-fi truly excels.book cover

The by-proxy technique that sci-fi is famous for allows Scalzi to discuss subjects of disenfranchisement and prejudice through Hadens, a group of people whose bodies have been damaged beyond repair by an illness that leaves their brains mostly untouched. They connect to our world through Threeps – androids, which they pilot through an internet that we can only dream of having today.

The main character is one such Haden and an FBI agent named Chris Shane, who has a tight relationship with his partner Vann (it is also a source of comic relief many a time). The dynamic adds to the entertainment and pleasure of the read and is one of the strongest points of the novel.

Head On touches on light cyberpunk and science fiction themes, though the extremes of both genres are left by the wayside. The book very much feels like a near future cop procedural that uses its light themology to enhance the elements which Scalzi wishes to discuss within its pages. For those who enjoy procedurals, cyberpunk or science fiction, this book is for you, and it should be a treat to read, even if you did not pick up its predecessor Lock In.

It should be noted, however, the book deals with adult themes such as sex and drugs: though not graphicly and does so with tact. I would not qualify Head On as YA safe, so keep it on the grownup shelf.