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Archive for August, 2010

Jo Knowles

I was fortunate enough to secure a copy of Jumping Off Swings by Jo Knowles the day before I left for a two-week trip. I finished it in just a few days. Yes people, it kept me up past my bedtime. 

  

From the Jacket flap: 

Ellie has hooked up with more than a few boys. Each time she is certain there will be more to the encounter than just sex. While she is with them, she feels loved. For a while anyway.  So when Josh, an eager virgin with a troubled home life, leads her from a party to the backseat of his van, Ellie follows. But their “one-time thing” is far from perfect: Ellie gets pregnant. Josh reacts with shame and heartbreak, while their confidantes, Caleb and Corinne, deal with their own complex swirl of emotions. No matter what Ellie chooses, all four teenagers will be forced to grow up a little faster as a result. Told alternately from each character’s point of view, this deeply insightful novel explores the aftershocks of the biggest decision of one fragile girl’s life — and the realities of leaving innocence behind. 

Jumping Off Swings (Candlewick, 2009) is Jo’s second YA novel, and it has racked up a slew of awards: 

YALSA Top Ten Quick Pick for Reluctant Readers
YALSA Best Book for Young Adults
Gold Star Award for Excellence from TeensReadToo.com
Starred Review in Publishers Weekly Online

I thought the book was both poetic and page-turning, and emotionally honest. 

And, from a craft perspective, is a work of art. Jumping Off Swings, told in first person, masterfully alternates POV between the four main characters.

If you’re a fan of contemporary character-driven novels with complex plots, then this book is for you.

Another thing I think is really cool about Jumping Off Swings is that Jo Knowles was awarded an SCBWI Work In Progress Grant for it back in 2002. I don’t know the whole story behind the story but I think this is a great example of sticking with something. From the acknowledgments at the end of the book: To my agent, Barry Goldblatt, for not giving up on the novel formerly known as Slut.

Look for Jo Knowles’s newest book: SEE YOU AT HARRY’S!, about a twelve-year-old girl who feels invisible among the chaos of her family’s restaurant business, thanks to her parents’ benign neglect and the more demanding needs of her sister and two brothers in Spring 2012 from Candlewick. 

Leave a comment, and your email address, before midnight Friday, Sept. 3rd (Eastern Time) for a chance to win a copy of Jumping Off Swings.

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I almost ran my bike off the road the first time I saw this place. It’s about seven miles from my house. I have no idea who owns it, but it looks kind of cool.

Great view, but it’d be a cold climb in the winter when it’s 40 below!

Have a great weekend!

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I’ve been talking quite a bit about revision the past few weeks because of where I am with one of my novels. Two weeks ago, I talked about micro-level revisions, and last week, about how to maintain voice while revising.

Now, after several critiques and twelve drafts, and reading my manuscript out loud, I’m in the final polishing stage.

I always print out my manuscript for the final read-through. I find that I catch more errors on paper than I do on the screen.

 What am I looking for?

  1. Misspelled words
  2. Missing punctuation
  3. Formatting issues
  4. Any other errors

I’m about half-way through the hard-copy and I’ve found one backwards apostrophe, two misspelled words or typos, one place where I had to add a word, and a couple places where I’m considering using a hyphen.

Yes, it’s not much, and none of these little errors are deal breakers, but this read-through gives me something very important: “Peace of mind.”

How do I do this read-though?

  1. Mindfully
  2. Slowly

I know the story so well that if I didn’t force myself to read the words in a slow and mindful way I probably wouldn’t catch anything. It’s easy for my brain to fill in words that I know should be there even if they aren’t. And unlike a read-through for plot, pacing and character where I like to read the whole book in one or two chunks, this time I break it up more because I’m really doing more proof-reading than anything.

Do you do your final read-through on hard-copy or on the screen? How do you maintain your concentration when reading a story that you know so well? How do you train your mind to see what is on the paper instead of what is in your head?

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 I love summer. And, I have a really purple tongue right now. Need I say more 🙂

Have a great weekend!!

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Maintaining Voice

The voice. I think I lost the voice.

When I’m in the latter stages of revision, and I’ve done everything listed in my Micro Revision post, and I’ve shared the novel with a few beta readers, there comes a time when I try to look at every word in the book. 

Of course, I can’t look at every word individually because words in a story don’t stand on their own. I look at words in relation to the other words around them. But I consider every word when I read sentence after sentence, and here’s the main question I ask:

Are there words I can eliminate while still maintaining the Voice of the MC?

I’m not a fan of chopping words just because the sentence will still read okay without them.

I’m not looking for okay, I’m looking to maintain my MC’s voice.

So, I’m a fan of focusing on my how my MC narrates, speaks and acts, and then going from there.

Do I cut a lot of words? I do. But I don’t cut them because they appear to appear too many times.

If there’s a phrase or word that my MC uses with some frequency, I’ll do a search to see where it pops up and I might delete a few of those entries because the same phrase, no matter how witty, has the potential to lose its punch, or become annoying, if used to often.

And yes, I don’t want my manuscript littered with little words like just, but, so, for, and that. However, I don’t cut these words just because a sentence will still read okay without them.

If you cut words without considering the voice, you might revise the voice right out of your story. And if you do that, it’ll be hard for anyone to connect with your story no matter how good the plot is. I did that once a few years ago and then had to do CPR on my manuscript to bring it back to life.

How about you? Have you ever over-revised a manuscript? How do you determine whether to cut or keep a word? All those little decisions can add up.

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In between some amazing sessions at WriteOnCon I had to keep sneaking out to the garden to harvest the vegetables that have pretty much taken over our lives.

On one of my harvesting forays I saw some brown blurry movement. At first I thought it was just the sun and shadows playing tricks on me. Something kept sneaking into my line of sight and disappearing.

I sat down in a chair in front of our greenhouse and this little munchkin popped out from under one of the raised beds.

Short-tailed weasel

He proceeded to dart in and out of cover for about a half hour. Luckily for me, WriteOnCon has great archives so I didn’t have to worry about missing something while I hung with the weasel. 

I got a few fleeting photos. He was a fast little sucker. Cute, too.

The little guy made my day, but WriteOnCon made my week. A big thank you to Jamie Harrington, Elana Johnson, Casey McCormick, Shannon Messenger, Lisa & Laura Roecker and Jennifer Stayrook for working the magic that made it all happen. 

All the presentations are archived on the WriteOnCon website. It is a great resource for writers. I’m not even going to try to pick a favorite, or most helpful, post or vlog or live chat. They were all very high quality, professional, fun and thought provoking.

Today I’m heading out on a twenty mile run with a friend in preparation for the Equinox Marathon. We both have some knee issues limiting us, but our running mantra is: Slow miles are better than no miles.

Happy writing, and have a great weekend!

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In Edward Abbey’s classic, Hayduke Lives, the book opens with a Desert Tortoise being buried under a huge pile of dirt pushed by a giant bull dozer. I thought it was some symbolic statement about the Earth being trashed. That tortoise was history.

I quickly forgot about the tortoise as the story unfolded. But at the end of the book that tortoise crawls out of the dirt and keeps on going.

Obviously, with writing it’s important to keep moving forward. Sometimes it might feel like you are going nowhere fast, like you can’t get your head out of the dirt.

But speed isn’t the point if you’re on this writing journey.

I’m guessing that tortoise stopped and rested in its crawl toward daylight, and maybe it even took a few wrong turns but it made it out of dirt. And then, it kept on going.

This week on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, I’ll be attending a bunch of free online workshops at WriteOnCon. It’ll be a great way to keep moving forward.

The presentations will be available on the WriteOnCon website afterwards so even if you can’t make any of them at the given times you can still check them out, which is a good deal for me since I live in Alaska and the Conference starts at 2 a.m. my time. Yeah, there’s a good chance I’ll miss the keynote address tomorrow because I’ll be doing this:

What do you do to keep moving forward as a writer? And, when you feel stuck, what do you do to get unstuck? Are you participating in WriteOnCon?

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