Sunday, January 31, 2010

voice is inherited

Roald Dahl (1916-1990)

Enough of that picture of the lady with the dog carrier, right! On to more interesting things...
I recently finished reading The BFG "Big Friendly Giant" (Puffin Books, 1982) written by Roald Dahl, and I am enthralled. I like almost anything Roald Dahl has written, but The BFG especially itched that whimsical, fantasy scratch. Dahl has that special touch that translates into effortless, old world storytelling that's never short of villains with a darker than normal sense of humor - in The BFG, other giants - mean ones - eat adults and little children. Not the BFG though, remember he is friendly, and captures dreams which at night he blows into the bedrooms of sleeping children via their open windows.

In one passage, the BFG describes dreams saying: "Dreams," he said, "is very mysterious things. They is floating around in the air like little wispy-misty bubbles. And all the time they is searching for sleeping people."

The Big Friendly Giant was never lucky enough to receive a formal education, so many of his words are all mixed-up, yet somehow still make sense: "I is not understanding human beans at all," the BFG said. "You is a human bean and you is saying it is grizzling and horrigust for giants to be eating human beans. Right or left?"

Dahl was born to Norwegian parents in the year 1916. He has said that his mother told him stories of trolls and other mythical Norwegian creatures. I like to dream that some gene from my own Norwegian ancestors (whose last name was Saetre) besides their height, has rubbed of on me, especially in the storytelling arena, and maybe it has. Like eye color, and height, I believe that some aspect of a person's voice is inherited. Your ancestry, where you were born, where your grandparents were from, etc., on some level influences the type of storyteller you are or will be. If you're lucky enough to find letters or school papers, or goldmine - actually have an author in the family -from relatives, it's likely you'll hear some version of yourself, only modernized.
So give it a whirl, look for an old birthday card, a holiday newsletter, a love letter from your granddad to your grandma, and see if you can find your voice in theirs...
(Image of Roald Dahl from

Monday, January 25, 2010

over- the-shoulder-doggie-holder

Now I'm not one to judge others for the accessories they buy their dogs (Sadie may have gotten a new sweater over the weekend), but this one had me scratching my head. It's an over-the-shoulder-doggie-holder. I remember the first time I passed a lady on the street pushing her dogs in a baby carriage. I thought that was strange. But I'm not sure about this one. I suppose if your dog is old and can't walk far anymore, or is recovering from surgery this could work... All I know is that if I strapped Sadie into this to do some hands-free shopping, one my back would go out, and two, I'd get some funny looks...

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

writing tips from highlights foundation

I was roaming around on the Highlights website recently, which sounds pretty strange unless you know that I was looking for the publication guidelines for writers, when I came across some helpful articles written by authors on writing tips. I really liked the two articles on creativity and action and adventure, posted below. If you're a children's book writer, check em' out, they may help you too!

Mary Lou Carney wrote an endearing article on creativity here.

And Dayton O. Hyde writes about action and adventure here.

the unexpected visitor

Here's a funny story that my mom told me which I wanted to share. She works out of her home, and while she was sitting at her desk yesterday, she heard someone jiggling the handle on the front door trying to get in. Suddenly, the door burst open with a gust of wind and in strode a big, yellow lab. The lab, soaking wet from the rain, walked right past her office door and into the kitchen where he shook off and made himself at home. Sadie and my mom's dog, Garfield, were lounging in their beds in the office when the dog came in. They were so shocked that they didn't even bark and just stood up and gawked at the huge intruder. My mom dried the lab off and gave him some food and water, then called the number on his I.D. tag. Turns out his owners were down in San Diego and a dog-sitter was watching him. Somehow he 'd escaped his backyard and found his way to my mom's house. Maybe he could smell that there were other dogs around or maybe he just knew that the person behind the door was home and would help him? Whatever the case, he's now back at his own place and doing fine.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

creating a page-turner

Knowing just when to end a chapter, while leaving your readers wanting more, is a craft. If I were an educator teaching my class the art of creating a page-turner, I would instruct them to read The Maze Runner by James Dashner (Delacorte Press, 2009). I had to force myself to put this book down when the clock struck midnight each night and I found myself still reading. "Just one more chapter, just one more..." the voice inside my head begged me, and I'd usually succumb. I finished the book after about one week, which is fast for me...I'm a slow reader.

The Maze Runner is about a 16 year-old boy who wakes up with no memory of his life, and realizes that he's been sent to a strange enclosure made up of tall, cement walls called the Glade, with about 60 other boys. Outside of the Glade is a maze, which for the last two years the boys have been trying to solve. Every night, the giant, ivy-covered walls close, shutting out deadly, killing hybrid machine-beasts, and every week supplies are sent from an underground elevator until one day it stops completely after the appearance of a girl - the first ever - who shows up with a message of the end.

It's a pretty dark book, all-in-all, but I loved that about it - definitely a "boy read." What I found most impressive, though, was that the author managed to keep the story moving along quickly, even though the majority of the book takes place within the walls of the Glade. It's very, very hard to move a story along and keep it entertaining, when you don't change the characters' locations. Think about it, even in real-life, those of us who work from home all day don't have a lot to tell our spouses or roommates over dinner, unless we had some interesting phone calls or emails. But when we move our bodies from point A to point B, or C and D, unless we keep our eyes closed, we encounter people and/or events and thus have more to tell. Changing locations, say, even something as simple as moving your characters from their home to school, is one of the main tools used to maintain a steady pace, while also adding to the plot. But with The Maze Runner, the farthest the boys go is out into the maze so the author is forced to find other ways to propel the story. He does this by not letting the boys rest (I was actually feeling mentally exhausted toward the end of some chapters) and he also brings us into the head of the protagonist by re-awakening some of his memories, showing us scattered events from his past. He did this so smoothly, that sometimes it felt like the book was written in first-person instead of third-person. Another tool the author used to keep the pace without changing locations, was that he gave the boys things to do. He kept stirring-up trouble inside of the Glade. The boys were constantly working to keep order and were always looking for a way out, their desperation was palpable.
Not to give too much away, but the book does finally end with a change of location, which will be revealed in the second book of the series, due out the end of this year, I believe.

After finishing this book, it's made me want to re-evaluate the ends of the chapters in my book to make sure that they're keeping my readers wanting more. If you're a writer with this problem, I'd suggest reading The Maze Runner, or if you're just looking for a good read definitely go and pick it up!

Thursday, January 14, 2010

poetry and some really bad art

Usually I bug my parents to get rid of things because they tend to hold onto junk for way too long. But for once I'm happy that they didn't listen to me, and kept a box full of poetry, writing and school assignments from when I was in 5th through 8th grades. I rummaged through that box today, and found all kinds of funny stuff. Sometimes I have a tendency to be too honest and I can't lie... it seems that I've always been that way. And I certainly didn't hold back with telling my teachers embarrassing details of things my parents and sister did, even stuff that I did! It also appears that I had an infatuation with the beach, swimming, dogs and flowers and that I was very paranoid about pollution. I wrote that by 2010, Los Angeles, CA would have black skies and be unlivable - hmmm....maybe I was reading too many fatalistic books on pollution. But, in any case, I thought it'd be fun to start a section called from when I was a kid, and share some of these dusty-box-finds.

This first poem comes from a folder of poems I wrote in 8th grade. I got an A and here's what my teacher wrote: "Samantha - Your perception is unusually mature. Your artwork is juvenile. Together, this combines for an interesting collection. We need to work some more on correct punctuation and we will for the class anthology. I like your work, Samantha.
Neatly typed - every poem has a creative surprise! Keep this collection, Samantha - you may decide to major in writing!"

Yep, not much has changed. I still draw terribly, and I'm admittedly not so good at punctuation - but oh, how I try! Now if only I'd had this folder Sophomore year in college when I couldn't decide on a major!

The Amazing Friend

On this sunny afternoon I walked one day

Stopping to get a drink in a pond near the bay

I crouched down to quench my thirst

When I heard an outrageous burst

A shirt was hanging in the air

And there was nothing attached

Except some hair

I screamed in horror seeing this thing

What could it be? It started to sing

I stared in awe at this amazing shirt

And my ears really started to hurt

I ran one way but it blocked me

I ran the other and it stopped me

It said, "Hello, how are you?"

I couldn't talk, I couldn't move

I stood there feeling very scared

I didn't know how to act with

This thing with the hair

It said again, "Let's be friends."

And on and on my decision depends

I didn't know what to say

This doesn't happen every day

I have no friends I must confide

They just run off and try to hide

"Ok," I said. "I'll be your pal."

And off we walked down the canal

Monday, January 11, 2010

on the move

Happy Monday, All! Hope the weekend was good. It's been a busy couple of days for me and Sadie. We're on the move again and life is about to take some new turns. So I apologize in advance if my postings become a bit sporadic. Once I get a routine going again things will straighten out. And on top of that, I'm working on some new add-ons for the blog to keep you all updated on the books I'm writing, and my journey to becoming a published keep checking back!

Friday, January 8, 2010

getting that teen lexicon

Do you write novels for Young Adults? I haven't tried writing for that age group yet because getting that "teen voice" can be really difficult without sounding cliche. But if I did write for teens, I'd be posting my manuscript on Inkpop. Created by HarperCollins, Inkpop is an online community that connects up-and-coming authors with talent scouts and publishers in the teen market, and once a month, editors at HarperCollins read the most popular submissions (voted on by Inkpop users) to look for the next big thing in YA books. It's sort of like a petri-dish of teen interests and ideas, and a great resource if you ask me, for writers and publishers to utilize for trend-watching. I clicked around the site and I was pretty impressed with the ideas and the quality of work on there, especially coming from such young people. And as far as I could tell, there is no age limit for writers who want to post their own stories; you only have to be over 13 to use the site.

Some authors have a real knack for nailing the teen lexicon - Meg Cabot, Megan McCafferty, Wendelin van name a couple - and they make it seem so effortless! If the equivalent of the Academy Awards existed for writers - Best Teen Voice, Best Teen Antagonist, Funniest Teen Protagonist, etc. - these writers would win them. So just how do they do it? Maybe it just comes naturally for them? I wish I knew! But for those of you who it doesn't, I've heard some advice from other writers like go to a cafe where kids hang out after school and observe them. I agree that that could be useful, but do it too much and you could get a reputation for being that creepy guy or lady always eavesdropping in the corner. So why not do some of your eavesdropping unobtrusively by visiting online communities? Tangst (teen+angst) is another online community created by teens for teens, where kids can go and comment anonymously, vent their frustrations and share their angst - sort of like an online diary, if you will. Read through some of the posts, and you'll get a fresh reminder of all of the raw emotions kids go through which can make you both more compassionate for the teens in your life, and help to guide your writing voice.

On a side-note, I think it's pretty cool how technology has helped bring people with common interests, issues and concerns together. So if you write YA, what do you do or what resources do you use to get in touch with your inner teenager?

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

adult protagonists in movies for kids

Has anyone seen the movie, Up, from Disney/Pixar? I finally saw it and at about 25 minutes in I was crying! Without giving too much away, the movie begins with Carl, (the old man in the image) as a little boy with an affinity for flight. He meets a little girl, who loves aviation, too, and as they grow up they fall in love and marry. They plan to go on an adventure in South America, but life happens and things never quite go their way. The little boy (in the boy-scout uniform) enters the film when Carl is a 78 year-old man, but the majority of the story still revolves around Carl and his dream to travel.

What I'm trying to get at here, is that I often wonder why films for kids typically feature adults or adult-thinking/talking toys or animals (Toy Story, Monsters, Inc., Flushed Away, Ratatouille) as the main characters? (....clearly I watch too many of these movies). In children's literature, you rarely see an adult as the protagonist. In fact, I'm trying to jog my memory right now to think of one, but I can't. Anyone know a book for kids that features an adult as the main character? I'd love to know. Funny thing is, when I first started writing more "seriously", one of my first books was about a 23 year-old, immature guy who went on an adventure with Big Foot. A writer friend-of-a-friend read my manuscript and brought it to my attention that children may not be interested in reading about a person they can't really relate to, both physically and mentally, yet. Good point. But for some reason, back then, this thought hadn't crossed my mind - maybe it was all those movies influencing me? Now, of course, I know she was right and it makes perfect sense, and after our conversation, I re-wrote that book to feature an 11 year-old girl....

I'm curious, though, why does an adult, or an adult-like character, work as the star in a kid's movie, but not in a kid's book? Clearly Disney/Pixar is doing something right, because these movies make loads of money. So is it because there is usually a kid or an anthropomorphised animal as a secondary character? Is it because kids watch these movies mainly for the visual effects and the characters don't really matter so much? Or, is it so that the parents and adults, who are paying to see the film, will be entertained and more able to enjoy the movie? What do you think?

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

photo booth mystery

You may notice I posted a new photo of myself under my profile. It's a new year, so I thought a new - well, semi-new- photo was in order. The story behind it is kind of funny, too, or gross, depending on how you look at it. It was taken in a photo booth that my friends had rented for their wedding. The entire bridal party, eight, including me, stuffed ourselves into the photo booth. Being one of the tallest of the group, it was decided that I was to stand toward the back. By this time at night, mind you, everyone had had a lot to drink, and someone got a little too comfortable and relaxed, if you know what I mean. Yes, someone farted. I've never seen drunk people move so fast. Everyone piled out of the booth, but as I was in the back, I got out last. There was still one more picture left, and not one to pass up a goofy photo opportunity, I decided to capture the moment by plugging my nose - the camera clicked and there ya go. We never did find out who the guilty person was.....

Monday, January 4, 2010

winter wonderland photos

Welcome to the first full week of 2010! I hope you all were able to take some time off and relax. My New Year's eve was pretty mellow. I celebrated with family and drank wine and finally finished off that fudge from before Christmas! - not so proud of that, but glad it's gone. I also brought Sadie to the dog park, and this time, instead of being a little sweet-heart, she acted like the dog park bully - not to other dogs, though, but to men with beards! For some reason she has something against facial hair... She barked so hard that she was actually panting. And to top that off, she thought it'd be fun to roll in unidentified wet patches of who knows needless to say, we left shortly after that... we may be blacklisted from there now...?

But, moving on... Monday's after a long holiday break should be eased into slowly, so let's start the day with some pictures from Photo Pops! He lives in Southern Colorado and it's been snowing there a lot! brrr...which is one of the reasons why I like to visit in the spring or summer!

Fog bank over La Plata mountains, CO.

Moon and snow - La Plata Mountains, CO.

Bench overlooking the Animas River in Durango, CO.

Snow-covered rocks on the Animas River, CO.

Thanks again to my Dad for providing us with a nice break for the eyes!

(All photos property of Richard Hagar. Any unauthorized use is prohibited and illegal).