Flight of creativity: Never underestimate a theme park

IMG_20180418_103430When I first started scheduling my family’s trip to Orlando, it was with the thought that this would be a “kids’ trip.” With my children’s birthdays a week a part in the middle of April, I decided that one week of missed school would be worth a family getaway, because the theme parks wouldn’t be quite as busy as usual, what with spring break over and summer not yet begun.

I figured the kids would enjoy it. As for me and my husband? We’d suffer through.

Not so. Our plan to go during less busy times really paid off. But that’s not all. My husband and I had more fun than we thought possible.

IMG_20180420_123459Also, I had a creative epiphany.

Not only did I come home with a new concept for an MG series that I’m PUMPED to write (generally, I’m always pumped to write, but this time, my fingers are simply flying, and the characters already feel like real people), but I had a renewed committed to my art. Witnessing an attraction built around J.K. Rowling’s imaginative world of Harry Potter, or walking through an exhibit about Walt Disney, really puts the power of art in perspective. Activities such as watching my children undergo Jedi training or riding the Seuss Carousel  gave me a renewed sense that stories can take us ANYWHERE.

So find your inspiration. Be it a writer’s conference, a personal retreat, or a family vacation, dig down deep to remember why you started this journey in the first place. And then start typing!

 

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All in the Family

IMG_20180407_161951.jpgThis weekend, I attended a writer’s conference put on by the Oklahoma chapter of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI). It wasn’t my first time, and it won’t be my last.

It had been a long week for me, and to be honest, although I am fiercely passionate about my writing, as a busy journalist and adjunct professor, as well as a mother of two young kiddos,  I wasn’t certain I had the energy–mentally and physically–to devote to that passion this weekend.

But of course, as with many SCBWI events, the conference was everything I needed–and more.

The best part? I took my mom.

You see, writing for me has always been a family thing. My family are story-tellers by nature (my brother can make it difficult to breath, the stories he tells make me laugh so hard, and my sister always provokes deep thoughts with her essays). But it’s my mother, more than anyone, who has always enjoyed the pacing and delivery of storytelling, and I know it has had a mighty impact on my own writing.

But that’s not all. Mom has devoted countless hours to reading, critiquing, and proofing my work. It takes a lot of trust to give someone your early draft, and she is “it” for me. While my husband and many friends are constant cheerleaders whom I couldn’t do without, no one has quite devoted herself to helping me as much as Kay McAndrew.

So while the speakers were extraordinary (informative, engaging, and funny), and the fellowship of other writers was like a breath of fresh air, I’m still thrilled that I got to spend an entire Saturday sharing my passion with the person who helped pass it down to me.

Thanks, Mom. Every step forward is because of you.

 

Movie night (even if it’s Wednesday!)

A Monster Calls poster.jpgLast year, my critique group read the book A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness. This novel, which I had thought was middle grade when we started it, quickly proved a more mature read.

It quickly proved that it was mature enough to make even this grown adult cry.

Of course, I was reading from a different angle than most children would. As a mom, the plight of the mother in the book touched me most profoundly. I found that I really felt a severe link to this book in the relationship between a child and parent, and how much it hurts when it we must say goodbye. I researched Siobhan Dowd’s story, and found that Ness had taken her beautiful concept to fruition when she couldn’t. As a writer, this touched me as well.

Of course, like most stories, I’m always glad to read the book first. It’s not that I don’t love movies made from books. I adored the movie Wonder. I didn’t love it as much as the book, but I understand the differences between page and screen. I’m happy for those differences, because usually, it just means books are so valuable and will always be so.

Tonight, when I get home from kid activities, I’m excited to sit and watch A Monster Calls. No matter the reviews or accuracy, I know this story has energy, love, and faith behind it, and that is something I can always get behind.

Give us new colors to see…

Dear readers and fellow writers,

I am so excited to continue my journey in writing and publishing this year. Not only am I going to tell you about how this all started, with a little bit of hope and faith in my Teen Mobster Series, but I’m also going to share some exciting developments. For instance, I’ll soon be releasing new editions of the Hunt for the Fallen trilogy. Also, I’ve got exciting news for those who have been hounding me to try my hand at adult literature.

If you’re interested in what it’s like to write and publish, I’ll be divulging some of my best kept secrets for staying on track and keeping it fresh.

There will soon be a newsletter for you to join, so you won’t miss any of the fun. Stay tuned and keep visiting!

Cheers,

Megan Cox

Reading together…what a novel idea:)

(Note to teens: this is written for parents, but if you’ve been dying to get your parent reading books with you, pass it on to them!)

I had a great chat with a parent of teenagers and a teacher (who also has teenagers). We were discussing children’s affinity for or aversion to reading. As a child who practically inhaled books, this was intriguing for me, because I am always fascinated by the answers to this question: what impels people–especially the next generation–to read?

The teacher came up with an excellent strategy for the parent to reinvigorate her daughter’s interest in reading. I’d heard the advice before, but the teacher presented it in a simple way for any parent to tackle a child’s disinterest in reading (or even their own!).tumblr_m3xxfoMrRq1r2a2jmo1_500

1. Start simple. The teacher mentioned she had started reading The Bar Code Tattoo while her elementary class had quiet reading time. She got so immersed in the book that she eventually bought it. The book was not overly complex, and it is aimed for a 12 and up audience, so it was easy to read and get into (and be interrupted while reading). Middle grade fiction is a great place for tweens and teens to start, because the plots are engaging and characters generally relatable. More mature content is toned down. These books, which often follow middle-school protagonists, can be a perfect meeting place for both a parent and child to begin reading something together.

2. Make it a conversation. Based on the premise of having your own private book club with your child, the goal of talking about a book ensures that you engage in its elements. As you are reading a book that your child is reading at the same time, jot down questions that might start a conversation. Not only will you learn more about your children’s growing perception of the world, you will also be asking their opinion, showing that you value their thought processes and are beginning to view them as an adult. For most middle and high schoolers, this can be a thrilling and invigorating revelation.

3. Pick what interests you and your child! Leave the classics to the English teachers and hit up the new releases in Barnes and Noble. The writing business is more competitive than ever, meaning that what gets sold has been through the fire and is generally pretty awesome. If you’re worried about content, just remember that talking about the tough things a book may offer gives you an opportunity to weigh in on delicate subjects before (or at least in conjunction) with less mature peers. Also, high school media specialists (librarians) and some online articles (Google “teen and parent book clubs”) can also help you identify appropriate books to get started!

And remember, the best way to make a point is to set an example, so go forth and read!

Three things this reader wouldn’t mind seeing in YA novels…

I write young adult books–and I love it. But I wouldn’t be so passionate about it if I still didn’t love reading young adult books. I consume the genre, and even though I take “adult” book breaks to get away from first kisses and teenage angst every once in a while (although, for what it’s worth, adults are angsty too), I will continue to read YA voraciously, just like many other people my age who are fascinated by the plotlines and characters linked to a “coming of age” tale (hey, I fell in love with my man at age 19, so I’m not so skeptical about teen love–we’ve been together for 15 years and counting!).

But I am missing a few things. Here, in no particular order, are three items I wouldn’t mind reading more of in YA fiction…

1. Food – I’m starting with this because I’m actually a little hungry. I tell people I run because I love to eat. LOVE it. I am

I want to read you!

I want to read you!

a terrible cook, which means I only appreciate good fare all the more. But food is something I don’t come across much of in YA books (or maybe most books). I think food tells us so much about the character (ethnicity, habits, control, sweet/salty, etc.), and it can relate the sense of taste to a reader (a hard one to capture in writing). I thought the burger scene in Divergent was great–we knew that Tris had pretty bland, boring food in her old faction by her reaction to the Dauntless cuisine. In my first Teen Mobster book, Accidental Mobster, Danny Higgins is served macaroni and cheese by the mom of his new family. It’s a signal that says, “This place is homey and warm.” I want you to feel safe before the plot twists. So…let’s eat, people!

2. Adult friendships –  When I talk to students, I’m always amazed by how close they are to certain adults in their lives (usually parents, but it can vary). Sometimes, in YA books, I feel the parents or other adults are either stereotypical or shadow

Adults are not stupid (always).

Adults are not (always) stupid.

people…meant to go in and out of a scene, but really having little effect on the plot. That’s not true for everything out there, but I do see a lot of buffoon-like or overly antagonizing adults and few role models. One of my favorite characters is Cinna in Hunger Games. I loved his impact on Katniss, while most of the other adults were way more troubled. That doesn’t mean I don’t like quirky adults; I’d just like to see more parents/teachers/etc. we can respect. I will applaud Sarah Dessen; I think she does a great job with parents in her books–we are not always the enemy, but we’re human too.

3. Humor! – If I’ve said it before, I’ll say it one hundred times. There’s not enough funny in young adult books. I’m not talking

Need by Carrie Jones works on my funny bone.

Need by Carrie Jones works on my funny bone.

about comedies…I’m talking about dialogue and action that let us lighten up a little. You know, a scene that helps you take a breath before the heavy stuff gets back in gear. An author who balances humor and drama so very well is Carrie Jones, who makes me laugh even as I’m devouring the story. Now that’s a win-win. Everyone needs to smile–even in the darkest times. I’m not sure many novelists have a natural funny bone, but boy am I loyal to the ones who try!

So, based on that list….any suggestions for me?