Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Fairy or Folk?

I’ve been reading Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones. The cover shows a castle floating on clouds, an old woman picking her way up a lane with a long walking stick, a creepy scarecrow (complete with a crow sitting on its shoulder), and a hovering face – blue with wispy flames for hair and sharp, wicked teeth. 
Not the same cover I have, but
great scary face, huh?

Fantasy, anyone?

The style in which it is written immediately reminded me of a folk or fairy tale. It didn’t begin exactly with “Once upon a time…” but it could have. Instead, it begins:

In the land of Ingary, where such things as seven-league boots and cloaks of invisibility really exist, it is quite a misfortune to be born the eldest of three. Everyone knows you are the one who will fail first, and worst, if the three of you set out to seek your fortunes.

Right away, Ms. Wynne Jones lets us know a lot about the story to come. We know we are in a made-up location (I’ve never heard of the land of Ingary, have you?). You also know this story has fantastic elements (magic boots and cloaks), and most certainly will be about a character who is the eldest of three who all go out to seek their fortunes.

Will the eldest, our hero or heroine, fail? Yep. Will she fail miserably? Probably. Will she gain her fortune? We don’t know exactly from these two sentences, but I’d hazard a guess that she’ll achieve something good. Some change will come about. She will learn that her supposed misfortune is really…maybe…a fortune in disguise.

Did I give the story away? Or do you think the reader was supposed to learn all of that from those first two sentences? After all – what do we know about folktales just from reading or hearing them all our lives? (And what do we know about beginnings of stories in general?)

We know there will be a hero who will have some sort of challenge or face great adversity, right? (Think Three Little Pigs, Red Riding Hood, or even Jack and the Beanstalk.) We know that the situation we find at the beginning leads us to fear for our hero or heroes…but we also know that the journey the hero takes will lead them to a new understanding – of themselves, if not the world around them. (Speaking of the Hero’s Journey…if you haven’t ever watched or read Joseph Campbell and his interviews with Bill Moyers – do so. As a writer…you should hear what Mr. Campbell has to say. Fascinating stuff…)

So, as I’m musing about folktales and the style in which they are written – and reading Ms. Wynne Jones’s fantastical story about wizards who are full of themselves, witches who don’t know they are witches, floating castles and magical boots – I find myself wanting a strong cup of English Breakfast tea and a biscuit. And I began to wonder about folktales vs. fairy tales…and how myths fit into the mix.

So (to save you the trouble and show that I do more than just ramble aimlessly along in my own grey cells), I’ve collected some definitions.

Folktale: a short story that comes from the oral tradition.  Folk tales often have to do with everyday life and frequently feature wily peasants getting the better of their superiors.  In many cases, like in the folk tales we've selected, the characters are animals with human characteristics.
In their original versions, most folk tales are not children's stories (or at all appropriate for children) because they are bawdy and often violent.  However the themes of little ones having power, venturing out into the world, and good triumphing over evil are common. (WebInstituteforTeachers.org)

Fairy Tale: Fairy tales are a subgenre of folk tales and almost always involve some element of magic and good triumphing over evil.   A good rule of thumb: if there's a fairy in the story, it's a fairy tale. (WebInstituteforTeachers.org)

Well…that seems a little obvious, but I guess I was hoping for more of a definitive difference between the two. And I guess that means I tend to like folktales more than fairy tales. I’m quite partial to giants and witches and youngsters in trouble – hiding in the dark woods, following breadcrumb trails, seeking fortunes, etcetera, etcetera.

For good measure, here is the definition of myth: A traditional story accepted as history; serves to explain the world view of a people. (Princeton.edu)

Howl’s Moving Castle doesn’t truly fit into any of these categories. It is a novel, not a short story. It, I’m pretty sure, didn’t come from the oral tradition of any country. It has no fairies, and finally, it doesn’t explain the world view of a people. But…it is sounds like a folktale and certainly has elements that bellow “FOLKTALE!” throughout. Ms. Wynne Jones has picked her niche and filled it well. She can write these stories so that it doesn’t matter if they fit into the academic definition. In reality – this is a folk tale, by style if not by history.

Do you have any folk or fairy tales you love to tell or read? Have you ever written a folk or fairy tale? Read any from other cultures lately? (I’d recommend this collection of Bengali folktales!)

And we didn’t even talk about Tall Tales, did we? Hmmm. Love that Paul Bunyan and Pecos Bill. Love them. No matter what type of tale they tell.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Have Words Made You Gasp Today?

Since I write with a partner, I'm always on the lookout for books written by co-authors. Over the last few months, I've come to love and anticipate books with the author listed as "Rachel Cohn and David Levithan."

Please. Whatever you do about reading over the holidays...GO GET THIS BOOK! Now. Drop what you are doing and go buy Dash and Lily's Book of Dares.

You still here? Why aren't you muffled in a scarf and digging out your keys? I'll still be here when you get back, I promise. Go on!

OK...Fine. Keep reading here if you must. But I just have to pass along one passage from this book that took my breath away. I just love it when I read something that is so beautiful...so right...so artful (in a good way, not in a black-beret-wearing-snark-at-the-paintings-at-the-gallery way) that it makes me shiver and wish I could ever (EVER) put words together like this.

Check it out:

"She led me into a room that could only be called a parlor. The drapery was so thick and the furniture so cloaked that I half expected to find Sherlock Holmes thumb-wrestling with Jane Austen in the corner. It wasn't as dustry or smoky as one expects a parlor to be, but all the wood had the weight of card catalogs and the fabric seemed soaked in wine."

Sigh. I mean, really. The weight of card catalogs...fabric soaked in wine...

Be still my beating heart.

I dog-eared the page just so I could read it again on a whim. Whenever I need to.

What are some of your gasp-worthy reads lately? Quotes that you love or language that covers you with goose bumps? Words that move you to tears of make you snort iced tea out of your nose with laughter? Please...share!

(PS -- Thanks, Partner, for recommending this book. I owe you one!)

Friday, November 26, 2010

Being Grateful for Writers and Community...and a Free Book

Thanksgiving weekend. Here I sit, eating left over apple pie (my kids ate all of the pumpkin!) and waiting for my cup of tea to cool. I’m thinking about this writing journey of the last few years.

(Now is a good time for the flashback-I’m-reflecting-on-pleasant-memories music. Bee dee boo, be dee boo… And maybe some fuzzy picture of me looking thoughtful that fades into a montage of scenes where I’m typing diligently away… Sorry. I really was a film student at one point in time.)

Anyway…. I’ve been thinking about how amazing the children’s writing community really is. Most of the people I’ve encountered since I’ve started really focusing on writing have been considerate, kind, helpful, and encouraging – and that goes a long way when you are just starting off in any endeavor, let alone something as difficult and – let’s face it – personal as writing.

My thankful thoughts today are going out to the folks who have been there, been available, listened and encouraged and generally nudged me along on this adventure.

Like other local authors I know, especially Linda and Lisa. They have been a source of great information and encouragement…and growing friendship along the way. The simple fact that they and others I’ve met through SCBWI here in Ohio are so willing to share their experiences (and an occasional falafel) is pretty darned amazing.

Speaking of authors – I’ve also had pretty fantastic experiences with other authors since starting this blog. I’ve gotten very brave about writing to writers (no matter who they are or how famous) to tell them how much I admire their work. And I often add a quick request for an interview. So far, I’ve found that most writers I’ve contacted are very willing to participate, which means spending some of their valuable writing time writing to me instead of writing books! Pretty cool, right?

Not to mention writers who took time to offer advice on the hunt for agents. I had some of those e-mail “conversations”, too. The simple fact that a couple of best-selling authors would be positive and encouraging to a perfect stranger (me!) about the craft and the biz…just something to recognize and be thankful for, I think.

And even agents and editors who have turned my project down. Yep…you read that right. I’m even grateful for their input, comments, and yes…encouragement.

This community of children’s writers and children’s book professionals is one of a kind. And I’m glad to be a fledgling member.

So…in the spirit of offering encouragement and sharing what I know with others, I’d like to offer another book drawing! I’m giving away a copy of SEIZE THE STORY by Victoria Hanley – a book about writing craft and storytelling. It is marketed as a resource for teen writers, but I found the information on plot, character, dialog, etc. all helpful and useful to a number of my own projects.

If you’d like to enter the drawing for this great writing craft book – just type a comment below. It would be great if you’d tell me something you are grateful for this Thanksgiving holiday, too. And if you link to Carpe Keyboard from your Facebook or other social network, leave me a comment about that, too. I’ll put your name in the drawing twice!

I’ll draw for the winner on Saturday, December 4. Good luck! And be thankful!

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Write What You Know, Love What You Write

I read Jane Smiley’s The Georges and the Jewels last weekend. This is Ms. Smiley’s first novel for young people, and even the cover made me think of the old adage: Write what you know.
For me, one of the things I know is horses. I’ve been a horse person (or at least a horse-crazy girl!) pretty much for my entire life. I played with  model horses as a kid; held mock horse shows on hippity-hops with my sister in the back yard; spent untold hours in all seasons hanging out at the barn with my little Arabian pony; read every Black Stallion and Marguerite Henry book I could get my hands on. You get the idea. I started riding when I was about 6 years old, and with the exception of some time off to have babies, I’ve been riding ever since.
So, although I’m not a horse trainer and I don’t make my living with horses, I have a knowledge of them and many things equine by nature of long exposure. And love.
Before I finished even the first few chapters of The Georges and The Jewels, I knew one thing for sure: Ms. Smiley is also a horse person. There is something telling in the way she writes about not only the horses in the book, but the environment and the people. Only someone with a love for these large four-legged beasts could write so viscerally about a barn or a fenced pasture or how it feels to run your hands through a colt’s sun-warmed coat on a Spring morning.
You may have seen a barn, a pasture and a colt…but until you immerse yourself in them, know them – until you open yourself up to the smells, sounds, sights, and magic of those places – your writing might just end up flatter than a writer with a deeper knowledge of their topic.
Anyone can research their writerly hearts out and put sentences, paragraphs and yes – even stories – together about a given topic. But there is something deeper than just research, isn’t there? Something deeper than just the facts and being able to string them together to show action, plot, character and description.
When you know something – really know about it in your heart – you have a level of knowledge that others can’t attain by just wishing they knew it, too. As a writer who knows about something, you have power. You will be able to convey a message or an image or a story with more power because of your knowledge and your love of the topic.
Could be baseball. Could be horses. Could be cooking or Italy or mythology or medicine. Doesn’t really matter what the topic. What matters is that the topic has touched you somehow and has had an impact on your life. If you can really feel the scalpel in your hand or the spring of the risen dough under your palm…if you can smell the vineyards in the Tuscan summer sun or tell the stories of elephant-headed gods with joy and passion…then you will, in turn, touch the hearts of your readers.
After I closed the back cover of Ms. Smiley’s book, I peeked at her bio on her website. Yep. I was right. She’s a horse person. And I, for one, hope she continues to write about these critters and how they touch our lives.
And maybe I will, too.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Frey Fry Fo Fum...I Smell the Blood of a Young Writer!

Have you seen the latest brouhaha over James Frey? Yes…that James Frey. The one who was called to the carpet by Oprah for lying in his memoir, A Million Little Pieces.

New York Magazine printed an expose on Mr. Frey’s “fiction factory” on November 12, 2010. According to the article, Full Fathom Five is the company created by Mr. Frey to recruit creative writing MFA students from places like Columbia. Their goal: to produce the next Twilight. Really. He wants to get a bunch of hungry, young talent together to churn out YA fiction and stamp his name on it. Or Pittacus Lore’s name. Whichever. The point is: he’s setting up “collaboration” without any of the benefits of a real collaborative effort. He’s creating an entire company to take advantage of writers who are eager to be published, no matter the cost. And, according to the article (and other reactions across the blogosphere) the Full Fathom Five contract is heinous. Bordering on criminal. But still legal if a desperate writer signs on the dotted line.

Here's the rub: The first book from this fiction factory is already out -- and the movie is in the making. So it sounds like maybe...just maybe...Frey's organization might be a fast track to the top of the publishing Everest.

But...the contract promised virtually no payment in return for entire manuscripts – other than a few hundred dollars paid up front. No recognition, no author ownership of the final product…ultimately no control. And it included a confidentiality clause that prevents the writers from telling anyone that they wrote any book that might end up published from Full Fathom Five. So what would you do? Sign up to “collaborate” with a best-selling author (with stars in your eyes and dollar signs floating in little thought bubbles over your head)?? Or press on...on your own or with a partner, trying to slog your way up the mountain the "old fashioned" way?

Here’s a quote from the NY Mag article. The speaker is Phillip Eil, a first year non-fiction student at Columbia regarding a visit Frey made to his school:

We were desperate to be published, any way we could. We were spending $45,000 on tuition, some of us without financial aid, and many taking out loans that were lining us up to graduate six figures in debt. A deal like the one Frey was offering could potentially pay off our loans and provide an income for the next decade. Do a little commercial work under a pseudonym, sell the movie rights, and never have to suffer as a writer in New York. We wouldn’t even need day jobs.

These young writers are so far out of my world. Seriously. For a writer – as yet unpublished writer – to believe they could find the magic bullet that would mean they could avoid a “day job” and immediately sell movie rights…never have to “suffer as a writer”…is just a bit odd to me. I had to remind myself that these students – who definitely don’t deserve to be taken advantage of by Mr. Frey or anyone else – are students. Still idealistic. Still dreaming of their “real lives” after school. Still believing they can create art and live like a literary royalty while basking in the glow of their fans’ admiration.

Sigh. If only it worked that way. (Jaded? Maybe. Realist-- yes.)

I’m a collaborator. I have a partner and together we have produced a novel. Although my partner is a Published Writer, having a few wonderful titles to her credit, none of her books are fiction. So – even though she has some experience and an amazing gift for writing – this genre, process, and art form – it’s all new for both of us.

And we have a contract. We didn’t make anything legal until we were in the final stages of signing a contract with our agent; however, we do have a legal collaboration agreement that holds us to certain promises.

Did we need it? Well…we’ve known each other most of our lives. I trust her. She trusts me. We probably didn’t NEED it. But we did both have enough common sense to agree that it couldn’t hurt. And our agent insisted on it. It is just smart business.

Hear that? I said the “B” word! Ultimately, all of this fabulous art we create…these stories…turn into business opportunities if we are very lucky. After all – books have to sell to make anyone money. And they have to sell well to make the publisher and the writer some money.

(The New York Magazine article does go on to talk about how writing programs owe their students education on the business side of things, which sounds like a great idea. But what do I know. I’m just a writer. Not a student of a writing program.)

If you are interested in more insight into how writers are paid for their work, check out this essay from the New York Times about author advances.

So…do you need a James Frey and a wicked contract to collaborate and get your first work published? I sure hope not! In fact, I’m betting my dream job on the fact that I can collaborate with a real partner – with someone creative and funny and fun to work with, who understands my dreams as I understand hers – and not have to resort to selling my work in secret. No back alley deals done in the dark, with no recognition for me. Nope. No weird contracts that ask me to sell my soul to …anyone… to get my words in print.

No thanks, Mr. Frey. Even if I was a student at a prestigious university writing program…I’ll stick to good business. I’ll write for myself and collaborate with a real partner.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Book Club Booger. Venting about Poorly Written Kids' Books

Have you ever found yourself settled in for a good read – perhaps a soft blanket, a cat or dog and a hot cup of tea all present and accounted for -- and ended up hating the book? Yep. I’ve been there, too. Very recently, in fact.
OK, so “hating” might be a strong word. What other words could I use? Bored? Disgusted? Frustrated? Disdainful?
Usually, I try to write about the books I love. Stories that touched me somehow, stories I learned from either as a writer or as a person. And I’m going to TRY to turn my recent disappointing experience around. Really, I am.
Here goes:
I’m part of a book club. Most of the members are kids. I love this book club. I love being the “bus driver” and getting the kids to the meeting. Love listening to their energy and excitement when they read something they really connected with. Love that I get to sit in a hard blue chair and sniff elementary school scents around me while we discuss the month’s selection. Love that the adults involved (there are only 3 of us) are not “in charge” of this experience – we are on equal footing with the kids and take turns with them when choosing what book to read each month.
But… I absolutely didn’t love this month’s book.
I know you’re now asking… “Well? What was the book?”
I’m not going to tell you. I feel very awkward and very writer-bashy if I put the title and the author’s name out there for all to see. Plus, as you all know, I’m trying to break into this biz myself. And tromping all over someone else’s PUBLISHED BOOK doesn’t feel like the right thing to do right now.
But seriously? I’m so jealous I could just spit. I read a book like this Book Club Selection for November, and wonder how it ended up published and distributed by one of the world’s largest kids’ book distributors. Why is my book -- a (um…ahem) BRILLIANT, fast-paced, exciting story full of relatable characters and tigers and stolen treasure – not already flying off of shelves and being drooled over in book clubs around the world? Huh??? Really! As my friends at Forever Young Adult would say: What’s the shizz?
I’m seriously doubting the logic and inner-workings of the publishing industry today. All over this one book.
Here are the things that annoyed me most about The Book Club Selection:
1.       Unbelievable events. I mean, kids are notorious for being sticklers for the details. This book is not fantasy, mind you. I can deal with vampires and killer unicorns like any other red-blooded American reader. This plot was just full of things that were supposed to be realistic and believable – but just weren’t.
For example: Kids lost at sea during a hurricane, rescued by dolphins…then riding the dolphins (and holding hands) to the nearest beach. Seriously. I couldn’t help it. I kept trying to picture how two children would straddle their dolphins, who must have been swimming practically on top of each other, and then happily smiling and holding hands during a fierce hurricane in the middle of the ocean. Have you ever seen a dolphin swim? Those suckers are fast! And they move around a lot as they swim. And in a hurricane? Who would believe this?
2.       Stilted, unrealistic dialog. I wish I could give examples, but again, I’m not too comfortable with this “negativity” to actually put quotes in here. Suffice it to say I’ve never ever heard any kid talk like these kids talked. It was enough to interrupt any flow of the scenes and make me chuckle out loud while rolling my eyes.

3.       Evil People Hurting the Beautiful Unspoiled Environment storyline. Don’t get me wrong – I’m all for being green and doing everything possible to protect what few unspoiled parts of the planet that may be left. But the villains in this story were so cliché it was, again, enough to make me laugh out loud. They were not only going to ruin an unspoiled beach by building a hotel – but they were outsiders making money by allowing the evil military of an unnamed country to test sonar (Purpose? Never revealed. Just mystery sonar tests.) which hurt the dolphins. Evil white outsiders hurting or taking advantage of the native population – who, by the way, weren’t “with it” enough to do anything to stop the evilness without the help of some 11 year old castaways.  Again, I found myself thinking, “Oh, give me a break.”
Lest you are thinking I’m just being a stuffy adult over this middle grade book: I’d like to remind you that I’ve read dozens of kids’ novels over the last few years. Many dozens. And most of them are pretty darned good. I’ve read literary fiction for young adults, mainstream popular fiction, fantasy, sci-fi…you name it, I’ve read it.
So how does a book like this get published? I really want to know! Because there must be a trick to it. How do poorly written stories with clichéd plots and over-used, one dimensional characters make it through the enormously high hurdles of the publishing world?
Sigh. It’s a mystery to me. And I’m gonna have to get over it. And keep writing…and keep learning from the great writers I find. And learn, too, from books like the Book Club Selection for November – take their mistakes, the things that drive me nuts – and try very hard not to repeat them in my own work.
Note to self: Avoid unbelievable situations, stilted dialog, or clichéd characters.
Wish me luck.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

The Twirling Hero, Man-Eating Unicorn, and Poetic Villain....? (Or Tools for Writer's Block)

This week, I was reading Diana Peterfreund’s Rampant. My writing partner recommended this story – based on the fact that it was about killer unicorns. Seriously. Fang-bearing, poison-oozing, carnivorous, scary unicorns.

My first reaction: “No! You’ve got to be kidding!” Upon further thought: “Pretty funny…” (picturing rainbows and sparkly unicorns with golden hooves and baby blue eyes suddenly sprouting fangs). Finally: “Why the heck not?” After all -- killer unicorns would have to be more interesting than the ones you always see lying peacefully in some maiden’s lap on those big tapestries, right?

The book, by the way, was GREAT. Yes…killer unicorns…and a fabulous heroine in training to be a reluctant warrior. Strong, smart, and fierce – all the things I want my own heroines to be when I write them. (Thanks, Ms. Peterfreund, for adding to the growing collection of girls and women to stand on their own two feet – and sometimes wield a claymore or a crossbow!)

Anyway…the story got me to thinking about turning the accepted or expected upside down. And how, as a writer, I should use that concept more often. Take an idea – mine, or even a traditionally held idea (unicorn hiding in forest with maiden) and be brave enough to mix it up… a lot. Could there be a werewolf who watches for the cold weather to arrive rather than watching for the moon? (Sounds familiar…) Could there be vampires who can’t be in the sun because they sparkle? (Oops. That one’s been done already.) What about a simple country girl who turns out to be the star of the high school football team. Oh…wait. That’s already been done, too.

OK – so this isn’t new. Writers have been using the unexpected to gather readers in and keep them following along in the story for ages. But what about using this tactic when you are stuck in your writing?

So, in the midst of these mind-meanderings, I was speaking to groups of eighth graders at a local middle school this week, and someone asked how to deal with (da da da dummmmm) writer’s block. I found myself telling them to let yourself go wild – turn your story inside out. Write the unexpected. Push the limits.

If you’re stuck on a chapter or a plot point – and can’t seem to get your groove back, make your story stand on its head. You don’t have to keep it there…and what you write might not even make the final cut for a “finished” story, but I bet it will get you out of your rut and get your juices flowing again. Have your villain speak in iambic pentameter. Make your hero twirl everywhere they go. Let your setting morph into a Martian landscape. Not forever…just for a few paragraphs. Just until your characters tell you they are ready to go back to their real purpose. When your characters are ready to resume the story you really want to tell.

I have no way of knowing if Ms. Peterfreund came up with the idea of killer unicorns because she was stuck on some other story. But I do know that when I’m feeling that (da da da dummmmm) block coming on, or if my characters are suddenly stuck in a rut with nothing interesting to do or say, I might just throw a killer unicorn into their path to see what happens.

How do you deal with (da da da dummmmm) you-know-what?

(Oh…PS: Keep an eye out here on Carpe Keyboard for an upcoming interview with Rampant author Diana Peterfreund!)

Winner of Linger and Shiver!

And the Winner is....KENDA!

If you would email me at karisscott@hotmail.com and provide your mailing address, I'll be happy to put the books in the mail to you asap! Congrats! And thanks for reading Carpe Keyboard!

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Where the Heck are Mom and Dad? And a BOOK GIVE AWAY!

Read on to see how to win a set of Maggie Stiefvater's Wolves of Mercy Falls books: Shiver and Linger.

**Warning: Possibility of slight spoilers ahead! ***

So, you know those kids we love to read about? The middle graders and young adults snuggled in the pages of books about high school, mysteries, werewolves, vampires, or first love? I have a question: Where are their parents?

It seems to me, there is usually at least one parent present in the story somewhere, but they are rapidly shoved into the margin of the story. If they do play a role bigger than putting the occasional meal on the fictional table or asking some random question about homework as our hero walks through the house, it is often a role destined to cause strife for our hero…or even send them to a therapist’s couch in their later years. Are there any examples of loving parents in YA lit? There is probably a better chance to find some in the middle grade shelves, just by the nature of the younger reader. (Not, as of yet, ready to push the parental units away like their teen counterparts, I suppose.)

In the last few weeks, I read Maggie Stiefvater’s popular books, Shiver and Linger. In case you aren’t familiar, here’s the setup: Grace is in love with a wolf that frequents the woods behind her house. The wolf pack nearly carried her off as a light supper when she was small; however, instead of being afraid, she is fascinated and somewhat obsessed with them – especially the one with the yellow eyes. Enter yellow-eyed Sam, a musical, literary, homeschooled boy only appears in Grace’s town in the Summer. Because…(wait for it)…he’s a wolf during the winter. Ta da!! (Think Twilight, but with wolves instead of vegetarian vampires.) Romance and adventure ensue.

Sam’s parents: tried to kill him when he was very young. They couldn’t handle his early months as a werewolf – the switching back and forth between hairy beast and beloved little boy sent them over the edge. They decide they would rather he die than be possessed. The man who plays the adopted father role for Sam (Beck) is more often a canine than a human – which pretty much means he falls into the absentee father category.

Grace’s parents: Talk about absentee! They live with Grace and are still married, but between her artsy, flighty mother and her self-centered father…Grace is more of a roommate/housekeeper for them instead of a daughter. She comes and goes, and even manages quite easily to have Sam spend the night in her bedroom for weeks without her parents catching on. Very absentee. Although…very convenient for the story.

Beck and Grace’s parents breeze through an occasional scene, but their presence is more notable by either their absence, or—occasionally – by Grace or Sam mulling over how different their lives would be if the parents were present.

Are there any books for teens where the parents play a realistic role? Where they are involved, interested, present, caring, etc., etc.? (In other words, the kind of parent I, for one, hope to be as my kids grow up.) Do teens not want to see solid parents even for their fictional “friends”? Or is this part of the escapism of YA lit? Is this one way kids remove themselves from the reality of their own busy lives – sinking into a good story that takes them away…even from whatever parents they have in real life? To imagine a life where parents aren’t a big part of the picture at all? To dream about life without them or start thinking through how they will make decisions and move through life if Mom and Dad aren’t there to hold them up?

Lest you think I only considered Stiefvater’s characters, here is a quick rundown of the state of parenting on some other YA books:

Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta: Mom abandons Taylor.
Gone by Michael Grant: All parents disappear instantly in a cataclysmic event.
It’s Kind of a Funny Story by Ned Vizzini: Craig’s mom is occasionally present, in a sort of enabling way.
The Maze Runner by James Dashner: Like Gone, the kids are trapped together – without adults -- in a dystopian world.
Uglies by Scott Westerfeld: The post-apocalyptic setting removes kids from their parents’ homes at a young age, when they are housed in dorms together and exist with very little exposure to their families.

See what I mean? Parents not there – either literally removed from the scene or more subtly absent from the hero’s life. Heck, even Percy Jackson’s mom sends him away to live at Camp Half Blood for months at a time!

Are there examples of teen lit where the parents are present and provide? I just scanned my bookshelf again, and not a single title jumped out at me. So perhaps this is just one of those elements of lit for this age group. Or maybe…someone should write good parents into the genre…

In honor of parents in teen literature, Carpe Keyboard will give away a copy of Shiver and the sequel, Linger, to one of you! Just leave a comment below or mention Carpe Keyboard on your Facebook page/Twitter/other social network (and tell me about it in a comment) and I’ll put your name in the drawing for the set of Maggie Stiefvater’s great stories! I’ll draw the lucky winner on Saturday, November 13.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Talking with Award Winning Writer Rick Yancey about THE MONSTRUMOLOGIST

Over Halloween weekend, I picked up a copy of Rick Yancey’s The Monstrumologist. It sounded spooky and Victorian and dark in all the right, Halloween-y ways for a chilly autumn weekend read. Even better: It is a Printz Honor book for 2010.

It took all of two pages to get me completely, unequivocally hooked. Everything a Halloween read should be and more, The Monstrumologist left me quaking in my proverbial boots (was reading under a blanket in my stocking feet) and gasping for air.

I couldn’t help it… Monday morning, as I was swallowing the last of my luke-warm coffee and trying to replace visions of headless monsters with spreadsheets and business memos, I contacted Mr. Yancey to ask if he would do a quick interview for Carpe Keyboard.  

What follows is a Carpe Keyboard interview with award-winning writer Rick Yancey.

Carpe Keyboard:  Your book, The Monstrumologist, illustrates a rich ambiance of Victorian New England. What kind of research did you do research to get the details of this era down so vividly?

Rick Yancey: I've been reading history and literature from that period since I was in high school, so thankfully I didn't have to get too bogged down in research. I'm a mediocre researcher - mediocre in the sense that I tend to get lost in very interesting esoterica that ultimately I cannot - or should not - use.

Do you dream about the Anthropophagi? These monsters and their lair are truly horrifying! Do you read other horror stories or have a favorite horror writer? Does it impact you emotionally to write scary, bloody scenes?

(This is actually three questions - but who's counting?) No, but the story began with a dream I had in late childhood, in which some huge, hulking, faceless beast is chasing me. It never catches me, but I know in my dream it is only a matter of time until it does - and when it does, it will eat me. I haven't read horror since I was in my twenties (Stephen King), which is funny, the extent of my wussiness. Many readers have compared the books to the work of Lovecraft, a little odd, since I've never actually read his work, though it is flattering to be mentioned in the same breath. And as to the last question, of course it does. I shiver. My mouth drops open. I claw at my face and peek through my fingers. But I look. I drink it in. Don't we all?

Your writing is lyrical. I found myself folding down corners of pages just so I could go back and read sentences again – those that resonated with rhythm and stunning use of language, or even whole passages where devices like  alliteration were used with just the right touch. Do you have advice for writers about when to use devices such as alliteration, metaphor, allegory, foreshadowing, or others?

First, thank you. More than any book I've written, with each sentence I fought to find the perfect word. Sometimes I was more successful than others (there are some uses of alliteration I wish I could take back). My advice to writers is to use what works for you. Develop your own inner ear. Your words should sing to you. Reading aloud helps. I read much of what I've written aloud, especially if I'm getting overly proud of myself: the mistakes tend to stick out like a sore thumb.

Will Henry, Pellinore Warthrop, and even the erstwhile Jack Kearns (aka John J. J. Schmidt – which made me laugh!) are characters whose names fit their actions, dreams, and…well…characters so well. How do you choose names for your characters?

Again, I try to use my ears. I never settle on a character's name until I hear it spoken aloud - usually from another character (by that I mean in dialogue). First, a name has to sound right. I also like names which sort of describe the character (a common practice in the 19th Cent). Pellinore was chosen for obvious reasons. I liked William James Henry because of the way it sounded and also because it evokes the two famous brothers, one literary, one scientific, of the era.

Here is a question I ask a lot of authors: I’ve recently learned (the hard way!) that the editing process is where a huge part of the art of writing happens. I think some writers would argue the magic is in the act of writing the first draft. What do you think?

It's damn near impossible to edit as you compose. I think the more you write, the faster you can do both - maybe not better, but faster. "Magic" only happens (for me) during the first draft - when it's going well, I cease to exist. That may sound awful to a non-writer, but those who have ears . . .

When do you carpe your keyboard? What are your writing habits?

I try to avoid writing as long and as often as possible, because it terrifies me. It is the unassailable mountain. It is the sea of bones. It is the impenetrable dark. It is the blinding light. It is that sublime thing which cannot be named. It is failure. It is that place a millimeter from paradise. It is the demon come to drag me to hell and it is Beatrice come to guide me home.

Any advice for new and hopeful writers, especially those in the children’s or YA market?

Don't follow trends - Follow your heart. This is the Golden Age of young adult lit - be one of its beacons. The best way to avoid writing something stupid is to write practically anything at all (pick up a YA novel at random - preferably from your local supermarket - and you'll understand what I mean). Don't make Stephanie Meyer your model: is your goal to make a lot of money or to be immortal? Be immortal - there are enough rich hacks. Read, read, read, but be kind to yourself and avoid the garbage. "But a lot of people loved this book! It was a bestseller!" Remember Bill Murray's line from the immortal film, "Groundhog Day": "People like blood sausage too; people are morons." Don't be a moron - spit out that blood sausage!

Now if your goal is to make a zillion dollars - get out of the book business. Odds are you won't. Go start a religion or something - in case you haven't noticed, not many practitioners of any faith actually practice it. Invent a religion that's easy, and you'll have more money than God. Or at least Bill Gates.

Thanks so much for your time, Mr. Yancey! Good luck with The Monstrumologist series and continuing with the writer’s life. I look forward to more of Will Henry’s adventures in The Curse of the Wendigo.

Oh…and I, for one, am sure that this Beatrice will guide you home.