She, He, They: The Character-Driven Story

As I stated in my last post, I believe that all (good) stories are character-driven. Let’s discuss.

At The Heart of All Stories

When you pick up a novel, how long does it take before you commit to reading it all the way through? I’m no longer feeling that I have to slog through something that bores me, so for me, I give a novel about thirty pages. And in those thirty pages, what am I looking for?

Well, a number of things. I want to be drawn in to the concept. I easily tire of bad language/poorly written stories. I like to be able to picture the world, and I don’t want something to be paced either too slowly or too quickly. But for me, the essential element in a good story is – can I relate to the character?

How Do We Build Characters?

One of my story vision boards – the largest picture is my character.

There are as many ways for writers to build a character as there are ways to build a plot. Search the internet and you can find character questionnaires, character backstory builders, character psychological analyses, character dramatic studies, character emotional mind-maps. I’ve conducted day-long workshops on character, and I’ve probably tried every one of the possible architectures, including hands-on processes like crafting a character scrapbook and making a character vision board.

All this to say: characters should be as humanly-relatable as possible, and therefore are just as complex.

Of course, you and I and everyone on the planet develops our “character” with every passing second we’re on this earth. For a writer, it’s impossible to create that kind of complexity, so how in the world do we writers manage to create characters that most of us would recognize the instant we met them?

Jay Gatsby. But you already knew that, right?

If you don’t believe me, how about Jay Gatsby? Or Starr Carter? Katniss Everdeen? Harry Potter (or any one of the multitude of characters in his world)? Aria Stark? I could go on…

Back To The Heart, Again…

While there are many time-consuming exercises that writers can employ – and, trust me, I’ve done them all – I think great characters can be boiled down to a few key elements, all centered around a single, driving human concept: emotion. I talked a bit about this in a past post, but I’m going to talk a lot more about this emotional driver that I believe is at the heart of all good stories.

But let’s break the elements of the emotional driver down. Here are those that I think are crucial for writers to address when it comes to characters:

  • Backstory
  • Voice
  • Internal desire
  • External goal
  • Stakes

I’m going to discuss each of these over the next few posts, and each deserves its own moment in the spotlight. Indeed, each of these is so powerful a tool for writers to understand that you can find a craft book for every one, as you’ll see.

Please stay tuned!

Planning To Plot

As promised in my last blog post, in this one I’m going to address the multiple ways you can look at plot, and how simplifying your approach may in fact help.

The Plot Paradigm

The earliest plot paradigm harks all the way back to Aristotle, who defined the three-act structure in his Poetics, as this: each story has a beginning, middle, and end. Since that time a number of authors have adapted this simple structure into a variety of more detailed formulae. I put together the following chart a while back in order to see all of my favorite plot paradigms in one place:

Plot Paradigm

If you search the web you can find all sorts of other plots structures – some good, some wickedly complex – that purport to help a writer discover their plot. Some will take you scene-by-scene through a novel. Some hark to a screenplay structure. Some will help you with rising tension, some with the tentpole-middle moment, some through a hero’s journey, some by envisioning a snowflake, some pay attention to the middle muddle.

Just to help you feel better if you are struggling with plot, my friend the author Caroline Starr Rose recently posted about her own insecurities and attempts to find the “right” way to plot. And she’s written three compelling novels, so something must be working.

Here’s the bottom line: you need to find the paradigm that suits you. That suits your brain. The way you think and work.

Simplifying The Process

Having said that, I do believe that there are a couple of things you can do to find that perfect structure that fits your personality and writing style without losing your mind trying every single one.

First, I submit that all stories are really about one thing: a character with a desire. The arc of a story is determined by following the character’s desire to fruition – to her goal. The best stories place multiple obstacles (including an antagonist) in the path of the character so that she can learn and grow as she overcomes them to reach her goal.

Here’s what I do now, before I begin my “plantsing” routine:

  • Determine my character’s desire and goal.
  • Determine what obstacles (in general) will be placed between the character and her goal.
  • Determine how/whether she will reach her goal (happy versus sad ending).

Any one of these plot paths/outlines/strategies would accomplish the same outcome for the above three simple determinations. I’ve used each of these plot plans at least once, and some more. Now I think a simpler structure works for me. I gauge scenes the way I envision the entire novel – with rising and falling action. This is the “plotter” part of my work.

The key is that I have a trajectory – a desire line, with a desired outcome – and that allows me then to “pants”, or be an organic writer, as I like to do.

At The Scene Level

Now, there is one complication to such simplicity. At the scene level, the character must not only encounter obstacles in the face of rising and falling action – the character must have a reason to be in the scene, and there must be an outcome to the character’s actions. This “cause-and-effect” trajectory is what propels a story forward and why so many of these more complicated models are appealing, as they often address this second-level, scene-level, tension-building trajectory. So, if you need help finding that second-level arc, check out the various possibilities.

I think your instincts will guide you to the best fit for you.

One other caveat – I’ve discovered that my needs and issues have morphed over time and that each novel presents a new and unique challenge. In other words, there is no one right way to write.

In a future post I’m going to talk more about character, as I sincerely believe that all stories – all – are inherently character-driven.

How To Find Your Plot Model

Here are some (and only some!) of the models and craft books that will lead you to your “best fit” to see plot:

Martha Alderson: The Plot Whisperer Workbook

James Scott Bell: (anything of his but especially) Write Your Novel From the Middle

Lisa Cron: Story Genius

Christopher Vogler: The Writer’s Journey

Syd Field: (anything again but especially) The Screenwriter’s Workshop

Blake Snyder: Save The Cat

Robert McKee: Story

Donald Maass: Writing The Breakout Novel Workbook

A War of Words: Plotter Versus Pantser

Here’s the next in my series of blog posts on writing craft…

When I began writing fiction (a long time ago, now) I had no idea what I was doing. Really. Not a clue. Sure, I’d been an English major in college. Yes, I loved to read. And, of course, I’d messed around with words and writing all through my youth. You could call it, “random acts of bad poetry”.

But writing a book, a novel, from start to finish? How did that even happen? Magic? Throwing a dictionary at the wall and seeing where the words landed? I had no idea.

I bumbled around, trying to find my way. I wrote short stories, I sent them out, I accumulated rejections. I wrote three rather terrible novels for adults, and never bothered to send them out. So, I did what lots of people do.

I gave up.

I went back to school and got my MS in geology, then studied interior design, then moved to landscape architecture, then moved to working for a variety of nonprofits, then did a stint as a teacher of English. I was writing, but I was writing brochures and flyers and design proposals and lesson plans.

But writing – fiction writing – was still calling to me, and during a serious down time (a new baby) I went back to trying my hand at writing fiction. (Thank goodness, because I’d hate to be where I am today and never tried writing again. But I digress.)

How I Went Back to Writing

This time I found support through local writing groups run by authors. I sold a short story that won a local award. I sold a second short story to a prestigious journal. I discovered that writing for children was a thing, and that it really appealed to me and fit my voice, and I joined SCBWI. I wrote a short story that was published in Spider Magazine. I wrote a nonfiction self-help book for kids and sold it myself, a major event. But I still had no idea how to write a novel. I just wrote, and wrote, and wrote.

It still is a mystery as to how I finally wrote a novel that had some appeal, and after struggling with it for several years, found an agent through a bit of luck (another story for another time) who coached me through to a sale, and found an editor who coached me through to publication, and thus my first novel, FAITHFUL, was born.

As it turns out, I was pantsing all the way.

What Is Pantsing? And, Does It Work?

Pantsing is the act of writing organically, or “by the seat of your pants”. It sits in opposition to “plotting”, or designing a book from start to finish before writing.

Because I had success with this pantsing model, it stuck with me all the way up to nearly the present. I thought I had to write this way because it was the only way my mind would work. And after all, E.L. Doctorow famously said, “Writing is like driving at night in the fog. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.” So, writing is supposed to be like flying blind, right?

Now, as it turns out, I was – partly – wrong.

I’ve recently discovered that there are ways to design a book that are not constraining, that can still allow for that organic pantsing style I like, because I do like the serendipity of discovering a character or a plot turn while I’m in the creative flow. But now I realize that having certain direction, having a template or a path, helps me to write faster, more efficiently, with greater depth and clarity and much less confusion or exhaustion. My characters come to life more quickly, my plot unfolds with fewer mis-steps, and I feel easier in my work.

“Plantsing”

It’s still essential to revise, of course, and I’m not saying it’s all perfect, but this revelation has freed me in unexpected ways. I’m hoping that I might convince you to try moving more toward the middle, from whichever end of the spectrum you have started.

Because I now believe it’s possible to end the war between plotter and pantser. Should we call it “plantsing”?

In future posts – stayed tuned for the next post in which I give you specific techniques – I’m going to share some of the things, some of the things I’ve learned that may help you to design your book in a plotting way, yet allowing you to still enjoy the freedom that comes with pantsing, with generating that creative energy that we all love to feel.

Big Picture Story

As an aside, I’m studying to become a book coach. I hope to be open to take on clients by summer 2020. You’ll hear more about what I’ll be doing, right here, and later as I launch Big Picture Story Coaching for kidlit authors. Please stay tuned.

Right (Write) To the Heart

This is the next in my series of blog posts speaking to craft. Today, I’ll take a holistic approach to the work.

Maybe you’re writing your first (or third, or sixth) book. Maybe you’re still a beginner, hoping to write a book one day. You have the spark of an idea: a character, a concept, a paragraph. You’re nervous and anxious, because you’re sure that you don’t have what it takes to get it right when you’re translating this spark from your head to the page.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned in the years since I began pursuing this writing thing for real, it’s that there’s no one right way to write a book. But…there is one thing that will help you to write closer to your vision, and even feel satisfied along the way.

I want to encourage you to write from your heart, and write to the heart of the matter.

Find Your Emotional Driver

My first published book is a self-help nonfiction guide for kids. It rose out of my own frustrated attempts to help my learning-challenged son navigate middle school.

My first published novel is historical fiction about a girl trying to find her missing mother while living in (then still-wild) Yellowstone National Park. I wrote it while trying to cope with the sudden unexpected death of my own mother while visiting Yellowstone almost every summer with my son.

Both of these books rose from a deep emotional well. I wanted my son to succeed, so I researched and wrote a book that would help not only him but the many, many kids who struggle with organization and study skills. I wanted to reconnect with my lost mother, so I wrote a book about a teen girl who found her lost mother within herself. Though I wasn’t aware of these emotional drivers while I was writing, it is now clear to me that the deeply personal basis from which I was writing contributed to the books’ acceptance and success.

And even if they had never been published, they were both deeply satisfying for me to write.

All this to say: look at your current project, step back, and ask yourself what your emotional connection is to the work you’re contemplating or writing.

An Exercise

One exercise that might help take you to this deeper emotional level in your work is to sit quietly, eyes closed, take a few slow, deep breaths, and ask yourself the following:

  • What am I most anxious that the protagonist of my story should experience?
  • What am I most anxious that the protagonist of my story not experience?
  • In what way am I most like my protagonist?
  • What would I say, if I could go back in time, to my twelve-year-old self?
  • What would I say, if I could, to my twelve-year-old protagonist?

Connecting to Your Reader

These questions may spark some strong emotions in you. If they do, draw from that well. Put those feelings into your work. Let your character experience both the pain and the joy that you’ve uncovered.

Make that emotional connection between you and your work, whether it’s nonfiction self-help or historical fiction or fantasy or comedy… Your reader will make the emotional connection, too, and will thank you for putting words to something they may not be able to express.

For that’s the entire purpose of writing: making connections between you, the writer, and the reader you reach.

For much more on this topic I recommend Donald Maass’s The Emotional Craft of Fiction.

Comments? Questions?

Writer Tips: Formatting Your Manuscript

For the next handful of posts I’m going to be offering tips for writers, from the most basic elements to the most advanced. In today’s post, a pretty basic tip but clearly one that needs updating from time to time.

Not long ago I was helping a writer with a manuscript, and they sent me a handful of single-spaced pages with no paragraph indentations and no extra space between paragraphs. It was super frustrating for me to read. And recently a colleague said that she’d faced the same with a submission, and that the author of that piece insisted that “writer’s advice has told me to format it this way.”

I’m going to give you a template for your submissions because the last thing you want to do is annoy an editor or agent with an incorrectly-formatted manuscript.

So here’s what you need:

  • A Word document if you are attaching to an email or printing to send as a hard copy.
  • Twelve-point Times New Roman font.
  • One-inch margins all around.
  • Double-spaced.
  • Half-inch indents on the first line of every paragraph.

Now, the first page of a manuscript (whether novel, picture book, non-fiction – whatever) is formatted a little differently from the rest of the manuscript. Here’s how it looks:

 

For novels, it’s easier to follow if you insert a page break between chapters. For picture books, you should leave extra space between page turns; in other words, each page or double-page spread is a set of lines grouped (and double-spaced) with an extra double-space to indicate the page turn.

As a slight aside, if you are writing a novel in multiple points of view, it helps to tag each chapter with the name of the point of view character. More on POV in a future post.

Some editors want you to paste your text into the body of an email rather than sending as a Word doc attachment. In that case (only) you can single-space your document, especially since the submission will be a limited word count and obviously will not be paginated. But I would still indent your first line paragraph return if you can, or add an extra space between paragraphs, and use a medium-sized font (not too large or too small but just right.)

Many, if not most, editors and agents read submissions on electronic devices. When you submit something that’s difficult to read you dim your chance of acceptance, no matter how beautiful your work. If something is hard for you or your critique partner to read, it’s hard for an editor.

Questions? Comments?

“Best Of”…Writing Craft Books, Writing Craft Ideas, Writing Craft Links

Those end-of-year “Best Of” lists can drive an author, published or wanna-be, crazy. Why didn’t my book make a list? When will I ever make a list? When will I be published so my book can be considered for a list? Rather than feed that anxious envy, I’d like to concentrate on a few things that I hope will help out aspiring and published writers.

Here are a few of my own suggestions for a Very Crafty New Year.

Writing Craft Books

There’s nothing like a good writing craft book to get the brain working in new and surprising ways. In a previous post, I’ve mentioned some of my favorites, but the list grows ever longer, with new books and new perspectives. Here are some adds:

Wired For Story by Lisa Cron – I’m hooked on brain science. I’m also hooked on Lisa Cron’s books. In this well-documented text, Cron gives writers the science behind our human need for stories, and then presents solid craft tips and exercises to help us make our stories shine. This is the best kind of craft book, and no writer should be without it.

The Emotional Wound Thesaurus by Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi – This is a comprehensive thesaurus. If you’re trying to get to the heart of your characters’ emotional journeys, and need to understand the psychology behind a backstory wound and how humans respond to trauma in terms of traits and behaviors, then this book may be your answer. I especially liked the intro that discusses the psychology of the backstory wound.

Verbalize by Damon Suede – Suede takes a new and interesting approach to creating compelling stories: he uses grammar. That’s right, grammar nerds. Finding the right verb can help you define your character’s behavior. Finding the right object (noun/phrase) can help you refine your scene goals. Although a bit wordy at times (hah!), I find this book fascinating and useful.

Writing Craft Ideas: Query Letters

A recent post by Lorin Oberweger of Free Expressions really got me thinking in a different way about the query letter. Her thesis is that adding the component of the emotional heart of your story can take your query from ordinary to stand-out. Here’s a snippet example of what she means:

Consider the difference between this:

“In a future America, sixteen-year-old Katniss Everdeen fights for her life against other teens, pitted against one another in a battle to the death.” 

And:

“In a future America, where “district” citizens are being brutally punished for a massive uprising, sixteen-year-old Katniss Everdeen saves her younger sister’s life by volunteering to take her place in a battle against other teens where only one will survive.”

Check out Free Expressions for more from Lorin, plus the ability to attend the best writing workshops you can imagine (a holiday gift to yourself, maybe?)

Jane Friedman

And in another post on querying, Jane Friedman takes querying apart, piece by piece, with lots of sound advice. Do sign up for her newsletter, which is always full of exceptional advice.

Writing Craft Links

In addition to the above, I highly recommend the following newsletters, which are always my top reads:

Writer Unboxed – for essays on writing and the writing life from a battery of very smart people.

Publishers Weekly Children’s Newsletter – for publishing news on the children’s side, including sales (which will inform you on what’s happening in the industry).

Do you have favorite craft books, posts, and/or links? Please share. Armed as I hope you are with these new craft resources, I hope for you and yours a very happy holiday!

Writing Dreams Do Come True

I’m very excited to be able to reveal the cover of my next book, THE ARTIFACT HUNTERS, which will launch August 25 from Viking. This middle-grade novel is a companion to THE CHARMED CHILDREN OF ROOKSKILL CASTLE, with a different protagonist (though some of the same characters). I’m excited for this story to reach the many readers who’ve asked for more in my 1940s fantasy Scottish world.

This wonderful cover was made by Jen Bricking.

It still amazes me (I mean, really, amazes me) that I’ve written, now, eight books, five of them published by one of the Big Five publishers. Once upon a time – and it still feels like yesterday – I was desperately trying to write something that someone, somewhere would think worthy of publication. I struggled with craft, I ached to be able to say what lived inside my head, and I felt the sting of rejection time and again.

I had a desk with a drawer that was about five inches deep. As I went through form rejection after form rejection (this was back in the day when rejections came back in a thin self-addressed stamped envelope) I decided that I would put each rejection inside that drawer and I wouldn’t quit trying until I couldn’t close the drawer.

It felt like it took forever, but eventually I sold one thing…and then another…and then I found one agent…and she sold three books…and now I have my dream agent who has sold three books and we’re working on more. Several of my books have won awards, and one has risen to multiple starred reviews, of which I’m deeply proud. And the drawer wasn’t stuffed (paper is really thin!)

I have some year-end advice for those of you seeking to be published (and one piece for those who are, but feel you haven’t “made it”).

  • Don’t give up. Maybe you need to polish your craft. Maybe you need to find the story that sings from your heart. But if you want to be published, don’t give up.
  • Be open to opportunity. Make plans to attend conferences to meet fellow writers and hear the words of agents and editors. Always be nice – always.
  • Go to pitch sessions (at first this will be scary, but over time you’ll feel more self-assured). Hone your pitch. Keep names of agents/editors that you connect with (but don’t bug them).
  • Try for “entry points”. My first publications were a short story and a short article in children’s magazines. I was paid – and I was an officially published author after that.
  • Keep learning. Keep listening. Stay connected to your local writing community. Find people you trust as beta readers – and be generous and read their work, too.
  • When you feel you have something worthy of submission, send it out. Send it out again. And again. Reassess after each rejection, but don’t give up.
  • Always check submission guidelines before sending. Don’t waste your time or theirs.
  • Target your submissions to editors and/or agents that you believe will like your work. Submit to up to five at a time, no more.
  • If you think it might help, and you have the funds, get advice from a professional. Go back to school or attend writing workshops or hire a book coach. But…if you apply yourself you can learn a lot about craft by studying writing-craft books (more on that in a future post).
  • Don’t give up.
  • And…if you are published and are disappointed by anything (the reviews were less that you wished, your sales were not what you hoped) don’t despair. Move on to the next book. And DON’T GIVE UP.

I’m sending you my best wishes for your future success!

Thanks – Giving

Serious studies of late (here’s one) suggest that expressing gratitude can make you feel happier and improve physical and emotional health.

Boulder River, Montana

So many people I know are feeling sad, or mad, and the world at large feels fractured and splintered and polarized. It’s hard to counteract negativity in the abstract (even harder when it’s a constant background drumbeat), and hard when so many have experienced personal losses (as I have in the past year). And this is the time of year when we are forced to weigh our feelings against expectations of happiness, which often creates quite the opposite result.

But I am grateful, so grateful, to so many, that in the spirit of the season I’m going to turn Thanksgiving from a noun into a verb.

  • I want to thank my family, husband and son, for supporting me through my life and career, giving me much-needed strength and financial backing, as well as being my first readers/critiquers/idea generators. And, of course, I thank them for their love.
  • I want to thank my three publishers – my editors and copy editors, illustrators and cover artists, in-house staff who have touched my books even when I don’t know your names – who have given me the opportunity to send my words into the world. Deepest personal thanks to Marlo, Kendra, Aneeka, and Madeleine.
  • I want to thank my agent, Erin, her staff and co-agents, and all the EMLA family of artists and writers who have become my tribe.
  • I want to thank my collaborators and critiquers, from my first critique group years ago in Texas, to my partners in Montana, with a special bow to my friend and mentor Kathi and my current partner Jen.
  • I want to thank my VCFA family for providing me a knowledge platform that has helped me to express what I really want to say, and for being a continuing base of support and friendship.
  • I want to thank the wider writing community that truly comprises the world in which I want to live. Especially thanks to SCBWI, for starting me on this road, to my Spooky team, and to all the people who are part of the incredible kidlit community.

    Evening light

  • I want to thank my local indie bookseller – and all booksellers – for doing what you do fabulously: putting books in the hands of readers.
  • I want to thank my readers – the schools, the teachers, the librarians, the students – and thank Carmen who helps me reach them. And I especially want to thank those of you who have written me notes or have told me how much you love something I’ve written, which gives me great joy – and thanks to you young readers most of all.
  • I want to thank the universe – and my parents – for giving me the chance to live in a place of great beauty and peace.
  • Lastly, I want to thank those of you here, reading this, and I send you the wish that you, too, can receive many blessings.

Author Interview: Caroline Starr Rose

I’ve known Caroline Starr Rose for a long time – her talent, her generosity to other writers, her award-winning books, and her delightful self. Caroline has a new picture book out and it’s right up my alley. Historical nonfiction about two women? Racing around the world in the 1800s? Yes, please!

Here’s a synopsis of A RACE AROUND THE WORLD:

Seventy-five days. Two very different women. One incredible race.

In the late 1800s, the world was enchanted with speed. Steamships raced across oceans, locomotives dashed across continents, and a famous novel by Jules Verne imagined a man circling the globe in only eighty days. A fearless New York reporter called Nellie Bly thought she could be faster. She set out on a ship heading east across the Atlantic and vowed to be back in seventy-five days! That same night, another New York reporter found herself on a speeding train to San Francisco. Her name was Elizabeth Bisland, and she’d just been given a most astonishing assignment: to travel around the world, going west, and to beat Nellie Bly. This is the true story of two remarkable women who didn’t just race around the world—they changed it.

And here’s Caroline!

Please tell readers how you came to discover this marvelous story about two remarkable women – one of whom is well-known but the other is new to this reader.

I grew up with a book about the one-of-a-kind, trailblazing journalist, Nellie Bly. In January 2017, I thought I’d try my hand at writing my own book about her. There are a number of children’s books about Nellie — she’s just that interesting. But only a couple focused exclusively on her most famous feat — an around-the-world trip that she hoped to complete in less than 80 days.

It was only in reading Matthew Goodman’s book, EIGHTY DAYS: NELLIE BLY AND ELIZABETH BISLAND’S HISTORY-MAKING RACE AROUND THE WORLD, that I learned Nellie had a competitor named Elizabeth Bisland. Like Nellie, Elizabeth was a journalist living in New York, but that’s where the similarities ended. Twenty-five year old Nellie was plucky and quick. Twenty-eight year old Elizabeth was thoughtful and reserved. Nellie relished the rhythm of newspaper work. Elizabeth preferred the steady pace of a monthly magazine. The more I read, the more fascinated I became with each woman’s story. I realized this was the focus I wanted my own book to take.

The illustrations are lovely and very detailed where it matters. Did you have input with the illustrator?

I’m not sure if it’s because my last two picture books have been historical or because I’ve worked with a publisher who always does it this way, but I’ve gotten to be quite involved in the illustrating process. I saw several sets of sketches and was able to make comments on a number of things, such as adding the map in the background of the picture of Nellie and Jules Verne (one of my favorite images), removing a sink and adding a basin and pitcher in Elizabeth’s steamer room, and contrasting Nellie’s one dark dress with a variety of colors for Elizabeth.

It was especially insightful to read the comments the art director left. She saw things I would have never imagined (like the angle the ship should take while riding a monsoon wave). It was fun to see in real time how the illustration process involves a series of drafts, just like the writing does.

Do you have anything special you’d like to share about A RACE AROUND THE WORLD?

Thursday, November 14 marks the 130th anniversary of the Nellie and Elizabeth’s race! Nellie traveled east from New Jersey by steamer that morning. Elizabeth left New York City that evening by train, traveling west. I would love to think young readers out there might be following along with Nellie and Elizabeth this Thursday.

You and I share a love of writing historical fiction/creative non-fiction. Please tell us what it is about writing history that appeals to you. And…what is hard about it.

As a child, history came alive to me through books. I want to offer the same opportunity for my readers. Historical fiction beckons us to step outside ourselves and enter worlds completely removed from our own. It asks us to be bigger than ourselves. I love that.

Many things are hard about writing historical fiction. It takes a lot of work upfront. I love research, but like it or not it’s an extra layer added to the making of a book. When writing about specific historical events (rather than “only” setting a story in a specific time and place in the past), it can be tempting to push characters through a historical gauntlet, rather than let the story organically unfold. Those events need to take place but in the context of the character’s life. The balance can be tricky!

What’s next on your writing desk?

Next up is a novel tentatively called MIRACULOUS. I call it history ultra lite, as it’s set sometime in the late 1800s in a midwestern state I never name. There is no historical event anchoring the story but a historical phenomenon from the era is at the heart of the story — the traveling medicine show.

Jack works as an assistant for a man named Dr. Kingsbury. He wholeheartedly believes in the mysterious doctor because his tonic saved Jack’s little sister. But things start to change for when the medicine show comes to a town called Oakdale. The story is told in five voices — Jack’s and four other Oakdale residents, including a girl named Cora who becomes Jack’s friend.

Caroline says: My goldendoodle is Boudreaux (Boo). This is the photo showing dog owners do indeed start to look like their dogs!

I know you have a dog – as a dog-lover myself (as are many of my readers) I’d love to hear a bit about your pup. And if you have any surprising tidbits about yourself!

My dog, Boudreaux, is a goldendoodle. We got her when we moved to Albuquerque nine years ago. Though my husband and I grew up here, the move from Louisiana was hard on our boys, and I promised a puppy to make things easier.

We thought the name Boudreaux would be a fun reminder of our Louisiana days. (It’s a common last name in Cajun Louisiana). Her nickname, Boo, is a Cajun term of endearment.

I’m the third “Starr” in my family. My grandmother was Gene Starr. My mom is Polly Starr. But as I don’t have any daughters to pass the name onto, our boys promptly decided Boo would be Boudreaux Starr Rose. It’s pretty much the sweetest thing ever.

Boo is my fuzzy writing companion. She’s often near as I work. Everyday we take a few walks together. These breaks are especially good when I’m stuck with my writing. How I love this girl!

Caroline Starr Rose is an award-winning middle grade and picture book author whose books have been ALA-ALSC Notable, Junior Library Guild, ABA New Voices, Kids’ Indie Next, Amazon’s Best Books of the Month for Kids, and Bank Street College of Education Best Books selections. In addition, her books have been nominated for almost two dozen state awards lists. In 2012 Caroline was named a Publishers Weekly Flying Start Author for her debut novel, May B. She spent her childhood in the deserts of Saudi Arabia and New Mexico and taught social studies and English in four different states. Caroline now lives with her family in New Mexico. You can find her online at www.carolinestarrrose.com Twitter Instagram

A Storm of Wishes by Jacqueline West

I’m thrilled to be able to introduce Jacqueline West, the New York Times best-selling author of the gorgeous series, The Books of Elsewhere, and her newest release, A Storm of Wishes! Check out that extraordinary cover. And this sounds like a fantastic read, which will very much top my TBR stack. And…check out her fun fact at the end of this interview. It’s really awesome.

Here’s Jacqueline…

  1. Please give us a synopsis of your newest MG, The Collectors – A Storm of Wishes.

Sure! Here’s one of the official ones:

It’s been only a few weeks since Van uncovered a magical secret—that wishes really can come true, and that a mysterious society called the Collectors protects us from the dire consequences even the smallest wish can have. Van knows only too well how wishing can go awry: his mother is recovering from a broken leg, his friend Pebble has been stolen away by the evil wish collector Mr. Falborg, dozens of dangerous creatures called Wish Eaters have escaped into the world, and Van himself has almost died—twice—all because of wishes.

When Van’s mother is offered a position at the renowned Fox Den Opera, located in the quiet, beautiful forest a few hours north of the city, she whisks Van away with her, hoping this will be a safer home for their family of two. But Fox Den is home to an ancient Wish Eater—a powerful creature with the ability to grant wishes that have catastrophic consequences; a Wish Eater Mr. Falborg would love to get his hands on. Van must team up with the Collectors and find a way to stop him before he makes a wish that leaves the world in chaos.

  1. I know that this is a sequel to your first Collectors. Having just finished my own “companion novel”, do you consider this a true sequel?

Oh yes, this is very much a sequel. It picks up right where THE COLLECTORS left off, it features the same major characters, and it answers many—if not all!—of the big questions that remained at the end of the first book. The big difference here is the setting. THE COLLECTORS takes place in a large American city and the hidden, magical underworld beneath it. A STORM OF WISHES moves from that city to a deep forest, where secret mansions and ancient wishing wells wait within the trees.

  1. You are quite prolific in both YA and MG, as well as short fiction – and your website also describes you as a poet. Much of your work is fantasy, but you also have some realistic fiction. What’s your favorite age and/or genre to write?

I’m not sure I have a favorite age to write for—which is probably why I do it all! I love being able to move from one project to another and to find myself somewhere completely different with each one; it helps keep me from getting stuck.

The same goes for poetry and fiction. For years, most of what I published was poetry, and now I spend most of my time on fiction—in part because I love the challenge of the novel, and in part because I have deadlines! But I know that my work in poetry informs my fiction. I think about the sound and rhythm of each sentence, and I tend to go overboard with figurative language.

Genre-wise, though, I’m a fantasist. Almost everything I write could fit under fantasy’s big umbrella, whether it’s fantasy/mystery, fantasy/horror, fantasy/adventure/humor… Even my most realistic fiction slips into magical realism. I love how fantasy removes the limits of the real world. It’s so freeing to get to play with worlds where anything can happen.

  1. Are you working on something now that you’d like to reveal?

I’ve got a couple of creepy YA novels on the back burner, and I’m more than halfway through drafting my next MG dark fantasy/mystery. It doesn’t have a title yet—those never seem to come to me until the very end—but it involves a very small, very old town, a library full of secrets, and a book that may not actually exist.

  1. Please share one “fun fact” about yourself. And…any pets? (If so, any pet photos to share?)

I have a form of synesthesia, so to me, each letter of the alphabet has a color, and every word is a combination of those colors. When I’m choosing character or location names, I often take their colors into account. Certain characters need names that are full of dark, mysterious colors; others might be mostly pastels or bright reds and yellows. Of course, nobody knows this color code but me…which is probably a good thing, or it might give away which characters can be trusted!

And yes, I do have a pet: a giant, bouncy springer spaniel/border collie/beagle mix named Brom Bones. We got him at Halloween ten years ago, and he was very bony at the time (he’d been in a shelter for weeks), and he reminded us of the “wild, unruly hero” from The Legend of Sleepy Hollow—one of my favorite Halloweeny stories. Washington Irving describes his Brom Bones this way: “He was always ready for either a fight or a frolic; but had more mischief than ill-will in his composition; and with all his overbearing roughness, there was a strong dash of good humor at bottom.” That’s our dog to a T.

 

Jacqueline West is the author of the NYT-bestselling series The Books of Elsewhere, the Schneider Family Honor Book The Collectors, and the middle grade mystery Digging Up Danger, as well as the YA novels Dreamers Often Lie and Last Things.  Her debut, The Shadows (The Books of Elsewhere, Volume One), garnered multiple starred reviews, was named a Publishers Weekly Flying Start and a Junior Library Guild Selection, and received the 2010 CYBILS Award for fantasy/science fiction. An award-winning poet and occasional actress, Jacqueline lives with her family in Red Wing, Minnesota.