Monday, March 21, 2011

New Book!

As I wait to learn the fate of In the Shadow of Blackbirds, I've been trying to figure out what my next writing project should be.  I call this "The First Chapter Stage."  Ideas float around in my head, characters start to come alive, first chapters spill out of me, but the urge to move beyond the opening pages often fizzles.  It takes me a while before I fall in love with a new story after I leave a beloved manuscript behind.   

Well... I'm thrilled to announce that passion has finally struck.  I started a new book last week and just reached the third chapter and 3,450 words.  My characters are growing and deepening in my mind, the plot is almost fully formed, and, most importantly, I can't stop thinking about it!! 

I won't divulge too many details at this point.  Let's just say I've been wanting to write a contemporary fairy tale for a long, long while, and I've finally found my story.  Inspired by the woods near my house, I've come up with a young adult bedtime story I can't wait to share.

More info to follow...  If you need me, I'll be writing.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Five Reasons Why Historical Fiction Rocks

Selling a historical fiction manuscript to publishers sometimes feels as easy as performing amateur home dentistry. Readers young and old frequently view that daunting word— "historical"—as a literary party pooper.  There's an implication that a person might have to learn something from a historical novel, or characters might do boring things like sit and drink tea while talking about military strategies in pompous voices.

If you're one of the cool kids, you already know historicals can be just as hip as contemporary and futuristic fiction.  If you experience historical fiction phobia, however, here are five reasons why trips to the past don't have to equate to dullness.

Reason #1: Escape!!!
We read to slip away from our lives, right? Even if you're reading a realistic, modern tale, you're leaving your own surroundings to see how other people react to familiar conflicts.  I've always considered historical fiction to be a close relative of science fiction and fantasy.  A skilled historical author will submerge the reader into foreign surroundings and build a world that entertains all five of the senses.  History is bursting with oddball characters, eccentric beliefs, larger-than-life settings, and memorable heroes—the very ingredients of unforgettable books.

Reason #2. The Current Crop of Novels
Check out these recent young adult historical releases that will blast you into the past in ways you won't soon forget:

The Vespertine by Saundra Mitchell: I just finished this 1880s-set, otherworldly novel last night, and I was blown away by the beauty of Mitchell's writing.  The love story at the center is just as supernatural as anything you'd find in Twilight or other paranormal romances, but the characters' magical abilities are highly unique, and the Victorian world pulsates with life.

The Book Thief by Marcus Zusak: A WWII perspective we don't usually see—how the war affected regular Germans, including an adolescent girl (the titular Book Thief).  Oh, and Death is the narrator.

Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld: A fantastical, steampunk version of WWI Europe that involves the son of a real-life historical figure, Archduke Ferdinand.  The third book in the series, Goliath, arrives this September.  Historical action-adventure.

The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate by Jacqueline Kelly: There are no vampires, explosions, or supernatural beasts in Kelly's Newbery Award winner, but the title character jumps off the page from page one.  More middle-grade fiction than YA, this tale of a girl who wants to become a naturalist in an age of anti-Darwinism and female oppression is hysterical, poignant, and perfect.

Coming in 2012: Libba Bray's The Diviners, which I'm told is the roaring twenties meets the X Files.  I can't wait!

Reason #3: Cool Historical Fiction Review Sites
Here are three virtual hangouts that understand the hipness of historicals:

Reading Rants! Out of the Ordinary Teen Booklists!
Featuring a section called "Historical Fiction for Hipsters: Stories from the past that won’t make you snore!"
http://www.readingrants.org/category/historical-fiction-for-hipsters/

YA Bliss's Historical Fiction Challenge
http://www.yabliss.com/2010/11/ya-historical-fiction-challenge.html

The Fourth Musketeer
http://fourthmusketeer.blogspot.com

Reason # 4: The Authors
This reason is true for YA fiction in general: the authors are amazing. Their websites are gorgeous and entertaining (check out Cassandra Clare's website for The Infernal Devices and Adele Griffin and Lisa Brown's www.picturethedead.com), plus many writers frequently tweet responses to reader questions and offer behind-the-scenes views of their novels.

Reason #5: The Costumes
I read my share of contemporary tales and futuristic novels. Characters dressed in modern jeans and drab dystopian garb can still stand out for their vivid personalities, but let's face it, historical characters get the best clothing.  The continued popularity of steampunk conventions and Renaissance Fairs goes to show that modern folks often fall in love with the look and feel of history.  Plus the addition of complicated undergarments and starched, stiff collars adds one more obstacle for a character to conquer.  Imagine Katniss playing the Hunger Games in a corset and petticoats. 

In other words, historical fiction isn't just for ancient professors and stuffy, old war memorabilia collectors.  The kids in historical YAs are just as savvy and confused and rebellious as modern protagonists, and the themes of good vs evil, love and loss are absolutely timeless.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

BLACKBIRDS a Finalist in The Write Stuff Contest

I just discovered Blackbirds is a finalist in the Young Adult category of The Write Stuff Contest, hosted by the Connecticut Chapter of Romance Writers of America. Thanks so much, first-round judges! I'm thrilled to bits.

I learned about the contest through a tweet posted by one of the children's lit groups I follow. Unfortunately, I can't remember which group it was, but I wish I could thank them.

The contest was open to authors around the world, which is how a Pacific Northwesterner like me got involved in a Connecticut event. :-)

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Fighting for a War That Was So Awful, It Caused Grown-Ups to Believe in Fairies

I'm planning to remain somewhat secretive about the plot of In the Shadow of Blackbirds until the book sells, but I'll divulge the setting for the sake of this post: WWI America.

Don't know much about WWI?  You're not alone.  For some reason, that particular war gets buried in our collective history beneath most other major American conflicts.  As you may have read, the last surviving American WWI veteran, Frank Buckles, just passed away. He was troubled that Washington, D.C., has never erected a national memorial for WWI. A website dedicated to his cause, www.wwimemorial.org, states the following:

"...while the later conflicts of the 20th century—World War II, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War—rightfully have national memorials on the National Mall, there is no such memorial to 'the Great War,' even though more Americans gave their lives in World War I than in Korea or Vietnam."

Elsie Wright with a "fairy."
How did I personally become interested in this forgotten war? When I was around twelve years old, I saw a Ripley's Believe It or Not episode about the Cottingley Fairies. In 1917 two English girls, 16-year-old Elsie Wright and her 10-year-old cousin, Frances Griffiths, claimed to have photographed fairies near their home. Grown-ups believed them—including photography experts and Sherlock Holmes's creator, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle—and the girls became famous. The narrator of Ripley's, Jack Palance, explained that the reason adults believed the fairies were real was because WWI was so horrifying. I wondered exactly how atrocious the era had been if grown, educated people were convinced fairies genuinely frolicked in the English countryside.

I later learned about the boom in Spiritualism during the early 1900s, which also came about because of the horrors of WWI. Long story short, I dove deep inside the history and came up with In the Shadow of Blackbirds, a ghostly vision of WWI America, as seen through the eyes of a sixteen-year-old girl.

If you find yourself rooting for Frank Buckles's dream of honoring the thousands of Americans who lost their lives in the war that was so awful, it caused grown-ups to believe in fairies, head to www.wwimemorial.org. If you want to learn more about the Cottingley Fairy photographs, you can visit sites such as www.cottingley.net/fairies.shtml.

And, of course, if you want to keep up-to-date with my adventures of bringing In the Shadow of Blackbirds to a bookstore near you, follow along at this blog, Twitter, Facebook, or my mailing list.

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