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!

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A Jurassically good feeling…my 4 favorite Crichton reads in honor of Jurassic World

I’m obsessed. Just like my two-year-old, I am giddy for dinosaurs. Specifically? Dinosaurs originating from Michael Crichton’s Jurassic Park.

It doesn’t hurt that I love dabbling in genetics in my own young adult SciFi work. Last week, when I first saw the new trailer for Jurassic World, I felt that old stab of excitement that would come as a teenager/young adult whenever a new Crichton novel made its way to the big screen. Here’s a rundown of my top five.

big-jurassicparkJurassic Park – I was a nerdy seventh-grader when my family went to see the movie version in London. London, you say? Yes, London. My dad’s job nearly moved our family there, and we were in the UK house hunting (we ended up staying in Atlanta, which is cool, because I started competitive figure skating). While I was petrified during most of the movie (I have never been good with the idea of gore, my empathy for characters sometimes getting the better of me), I LOVED it, and when it came out on video–remember video?–I watched it until it ran scratchy. Oh right…and I read the book, you know, a million times–noting it was even better:)

big-congoCongo – Okay, its not that the lead actor was totally dreamy or Amy the gorilla was astonishing. It was the crazy suspense I discovered in the second Crichton book I read. He had me on the edge of my seat again…and again and again! I realized it wasn’t just the magic of Jurassic Park. This was my first introduction to an author’s style. Crichton combined science and thrilling plots that made me happy in my nerdy ways, and also craving so much more.

big-sphereSphere – The movie version almost ruined this one for me. Also, I had to hide the book so my mom wouldn’t pick it up and realize the “F” word had been used liberally. I felt so dangerous for reading such a novel in a rather conservative home. There’s so much mystery in this novel! Who is talking to them? What is going on? Is anyone at all going to make it out of this underwater tomb? My fear of being trapped under the surface of the water and caustrophia only added to the thrill of this novel. The worn version I inhaled still sits on my shelf (I’ve bought shinier, newer copies of most of the others, because most were from the library).

big-timelineTimeline – Another MC novel where the movie tried to ruin the shockingly good plot and characters Crichton put together . (However, I miss you, Paul Walker – another person leaving us far too early.) Not only did Crichton take on quantum physics (I don’t know if he did it well; I make no claim to understanding physics), but he took on history in the form of time travel. It was like he opened a fan letter from my mind that read, “Dear Michael. You Rock. Science is awesome. But could you dabble in time travel?” With that mix, and hints of Wells’ Time Machine, this novel easily made me remember why Crichton’s work would always be a favorite of mine.

I miss you, MC. You rocked!

A note to readers…three rules for reading

I had such a great opportunity to hear a fellow young adult author speak at a recent conference. She had written a riveting book, one that had won several awards, and I ate up everything she said about character development. However, toward the end of her speech (and I can’t even remember exactly what she was talking about at that point), she said something about Amazon reviews sometimes being toxic.1338696071187_6291332

Of course I was puzzled. Had people slammed her book, one that I had thought had a fantastic mix of intriguing plot and deep characters?

It seems that they had.

And I thought, what makes some people so small and petty that they must skewer a book that has been through all the best gates–an author with an agent with an established traditional press that hires first-rate editors? I understand when people rally against a book that has grammatical errors, poor plotting, and other things that are sometimes not addressed if a self-published author doesn’t take the necessary steps to make sure their book will stand up to the crowd. Your audience then becomes the gatekeeper for quality. No one wants to waste his or her money. But this was a good book, not only in my estimation, but in the estimation of expert panelists who had judged it worthy of awards, as well as many happy readers who had given it stellar reviews.

So here, in no particular order, are three things you might think about while you consume a novel. Whether you read for pleasure, are an established or aspiring writer, or function as a beta reader or editor helping someone get work ship-shape, think on this as you digest a writer’s work.

1. It’s not your story. Maybe you like robots. Maybe you think robots should be in every book that ever was. With fiction, we sometimes judge the author more on what wasn’t in the book than on what was. Authors must be mindful of word counts (when was the last time you read an 800-page novel?), and sometimes actions and events must be streamlined. If the story makes sense and has appropriate tension, then quit your whining. You wouldn’t ask Maya Angelou to add robots to I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, so let an author of fiction tell you his or her best story too.

2. Style is an artistic choice. Maybe you like stories written in first person, maybe in third. Maybe you don’t like diary-type novels or books written as email entries. Before you decide to hate something, remember that authors can spend months considering their “voice” for a novel and even rewriting one that doesn’t work, because a story or character might demand to have the tale told a certain way. Enjoy the diversity. I love impressionist artwork, but I don’t want every piece on my wall to be a Monet.

3. Realize that writing  a (great) novel is hard. If I had a nickel for every time someone told me he had the BEST idea for a bestseller but just couldn’t find time to write it, well, you know. It is easy to imagine a story in movie format, the high tension scenes and scintillating dialogue, but the challenge is not in the concept, but in stitching it together and getting thousands and thousands of words on paper while you avoid clichés, catch numerous typos, and make sure characters evoke the right emotion. That’s what we authors spend sleepless nights pondering, so remember, we’re working hard to give you the best story ever. If you doubt that, start your own novel, and it will grow an amazing amount of respect for your favorite writers.

Then read on…:)

A writer’s pick me up…

Every once in a while, you need to hear you’re doing a good job. Once upon a time, when I went to an office building every day, I could find fulfillment through working hard and gaining positive feedback from my bosses. Then I became a mom, and through an interesting turn of events and a move across country, I found myself given the opportunity of staying home while my children were little as I wrote part-time and worked on my novel career.

I’ll say one thing. Performance reviews for a mom aren’t the same. There’s Mother’s Day, where the kids and hubby go all out, but most of the other days of the year, I’m just trekking along. Not unappreciated, but no one is checking any “outstanding” boxes either (not that I usually earn an “outstanding,” I realize, as my kids ate ice cream for dinner tonight;). Plenty of times though, the kids cry and whine at me, but it’s the little moments, the hugs and kisses and the “I missed you Mommy,” that are my best indication I’m doing a few things right.

Then there’s writing. My part-time work for various publications is pretty straightforward. I get the job done, and usually it needs to get done quickly. The novel writing? Well, that’s more complicated. Ever since pitching my novel to a small press three years ago, I’ve found that although I started with a good toolbox for writing fiction, I have a lifelong journey of improvement ahead.

But, two Saturdays ago, I got to enjoy one small moment of “Atta girl!” Accidental Mobster, my first published novel (and the second one I’d ever written–the first is floating around somewhere on my computer), won an award from a group of women educators, The Creative Women of Oklahoma Award for Young Adult Book. I had the opportunity to receive the award at a banquet and talk to a room full of women about my writing story. The way I was treated and the response to my books was an overwhelming lift to my spirits.

Awards push me forward. They make me want to get better, to prove I’m deserving of what’s been given. That’s always been how I’ve seen any achievement in my life–a mark that I’m headed the right direction but can always keep striving. I’m excited for the road ahead. I can’t wait to share the stories I have and let the audience into the souls of new characters.

But for just a few moments, I’m going to take a breath. Atta girl.

Cheers.

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Doing my best to form a coherent thought during a brief little speech at the banquet.

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Getting ready to talk. Happy to report the trilogy sold out before the discussion began!

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Husband didn’t get my “House of Cards” reference to my outfit until he took this picture:)

 

Five reasons YOU should be on Goodreads…

Sometimes, I forget that Goodreads isn’t quite Facebook or Twitter yet. I mean, to me, having a social media outlet for my reading (which is, you know, on that list with air and water and food and stuff) couldn’t be more important. Well, if you like reading (anything, really), and you’re always looking for “just the right book,” let me tell you why you should be on Goodreads. And if you don’t like reading, well, you just haven’t found the right genre. And that’s the honest truth.

So, check out Goodreads because…

1. There are a lot of books out there…How in the world do you find a needle in a haystack? Well, on Goodreads, through friends’ and Goodreads recommendations, and by searching for your favorite authors, you can find out what people are saying about a book and get a feel for how you’ll like it before you dive in and commit. Because, let’s face it, we’ve all started a terrible book and just kept going, simply because we’re human and need to know the end!

2. Get this! Some people love/hate something as much as you do! Sometimes I wait to check out the reviews until after I read a book that I know I’m going to read anyway. But when I look at the reviews afterward, the best thing is discovering how many people feel just like I did about it! And, because there’s always diversity of opinion, it’s also nice to know (as an author) that even if there are some haters, others will love your story to death:)

3. Authors are on Goodreads and sometimes give away freebies. Just join a discussion that features your favorite genre, and often authors of that genre will offer giveaways. ‘Nuff said.

4. The ratings feel more personal/real than the ones on Amazon. I’m sure publishers have people who post ratings on both Amazon and Goodreads, but I get a much more personal feel from Goodreads. It’s definitely a community of readers being pretty honest about what they like, and I can also easily find my friends’ reviews, so yeah, I’m liking that!

5. Sheesh, do I even need to say it? Friends make the best recommendations…One of my writing friends recommended What Alice Forgot by Liane Moriarity, and I swear that thing’s like a teddy bear to me. I just love to cuddle up and fall asleep with it at night and, you know, get a little drool on the spine. And guess what? I’ve often found my favorite books come from word of mouth recommendations. So, it bears repeating. Friends recommendations is the number one benefit I believe Goodreads offers.

So what are you waiting for?

School visits – Ten things every author should know

photo3As an author who specializes in writing fiction for the younger generation, I know that a good portion of speaking engagements will be with that younger generation (more specifically, middle and high schoolers). Now, with a few of those (terrifying!) experiences under my belt, I’d like to help my fellow writers out with a  brief checklist that will keep the word “boring” or  “awkward” far from those teens’ thoughts!

1. Be yourself. When I was getting ready for a day at a high school recently, I put on a boring pendant in place of the quirky necklace I love. Five minutes later, I swapped out the pendant for my fave. I told you that to say this: Be yourself. Show your writing through your style and in your presentation. If you write quirky stories, don’t be afraid to be quirky. I’ve found in my visits that the “reading” students often have the funniest, biggest personalities. They’ll appreciate someone who isn’t afraid to be just what we are–crazy writers:) And you might get a compliment on that necklace!

2. Just say no to death by PowerPoint. Unless you have the funniest slides, like, ever, just don’t do it.

3. Talk about your book. It wasn’t until I was about ten minutes into several of my talks that some teenager would raise his or her hand and say, “So what is your book about?” Oops. As much as I want to inspire others to write and talk about getting into the biz, getting down to the nitty gritty, that is, the book, is an important part of why you’re there.

4. Know your–ahem–stuff. At one point, I was talking about the “big five” publishers, and a kid asked me who they were. I mixed two of them up, and even if those kids don’t fact check me, it’s a failing on my part not to know my business like the back of my hand.

5. Know the rules. Thankfully, I have successfully reminded myself each time to remember that this is a school. As a visitor, I need to keep my speech to the point, which includes my books, what it’s like to be a writer, and the publishing biz. Topics such as religion and politics are off the table. I have had some success discussing the purpose of foul language in writing and how the kids respond to it, but that’s about as far as I feel I should go. I’ll leave heavier debates for the people who know the parameters better than I do. That’s right–those hard working teachers!

6. Do some research – Part I: Know your audience. Are they an English class? Creative writing class? What’s the school’s mascot? If you have a chance to speak with the teacher, what are the kids working on or reading? All of this knowledge opens doors for you to connect with your audience.

7. Do some research – Part II: Use this opportunity to connect with the very people you’re writing for! I ask the audience plenty of questions about their favorite books, authors, and genres. What do they like or not like in a book? In the meantime, I’m also engaging them.

8. Which leads me to…don’t talk the whole time! Twenty minutes is about the max for anyone to sit and listen to a speech. It is. So, if you have a longer presentation, you’d better break it up if you don’t want students to use your talk as sleep catch-up time. Give them fun writing exercises, or even a book quiz where they can win a prize (your book maybe?). Or, make sure to keep most of the discussion Q&A, addressing their interests instead of just what you think is interesting.

9. No PowerPoint. Did I say this already? Anyway, you hate it, I hate it, they hate it. If you want graphics, use the Internet creatively or very visual PP slides, at the least.

10. Have fun. Kids are crazy smart. They’ll know if you are enjoying yourself, so make the experience as fun for you as you hope it will be for them, and everyone will win.