Sunday, June 27, 2010

Book Review: Roland Wright Future Knight

Having grown up as the youngest, trying to keep up with or exceed the exploits of my older three brothers, I felt for Roland's plight in Roland Wright Future Knight.

For Roland Wright, dreaming of being a knight is an impossible dream since he's just a little guy whose dad is a craftsman. Craftsman's kids never get to be knights. Never ever ever. But when Roland's dad designs a superior suit of armor that saves the king's life in battle, Roland's hopes revive when he discovers that the reward is for either he or his brother to become a page, the first step to knighthood.

Since older brother Shelby has never expressed an interest in becoming a knight, Roland is certain he will be chosen. The dream that seemed impossible will finally become reality. His hopes are squelched when Shelby declares that he as the older son will be the page that lives in the castle, while Roland will live out his days as a nobody building suits of armor. Roland's wise father steps in and declares a contest to find who will become the future knight and who will become the future armorer.

Tony Davis has created a character worth rooting for in Roland. Boys will love the action of sword fights plus the humor, mostly in the form of Roland's pet mouse. I loved the clever contests devised by Roland's father which revealed not only the physical strength and agility of the boys, but also their character and compassion. The outcome is close, but I won't tell you who the victor is. (Not even if you throw me in the dungeon.)

If you get a chance to pick it up in the bookstore or at your local library, I hope you enjoy sharing Roland Wright Future Knight with your middle-grade readers as you discover together what it takes to truly be a champion.

Monday, June 21, 2010


Today I was reviewing my three submission lists. First there's the book list. This shows me, among other things, which manuscripts are out, where they are, when they left, and when (or if) I'm likely to hear back one way or the other. Then there is the short stories for magazines or contests list. This one is short, because I don't write much of this type of stuff unless a publication or contest catches my eye. It has the same info on it as the book list. Finally there is the agent list. (Can you tell I like to make thorough lists?) This shows me what agents I've sent what to and when, and what kind of responses I received, if any. This one is also fairly short since I've only tried to gain representation for picture books, and there aren't tons of agents who do PBs.

With the busyness at the end of a school year, I had forgotten to check my lists for a few weeks. I have the happy habit of sending manuscripts out and forgetting about them. When I got that note from the Highlights editor, although I'd seen the announcement date of the winner come and go on my calendar, I hadn't given it much thought. I'd almost forgotten the existence of the story after it left in the mail.

Sending and forgetting is great on the side of not wondering or worrying over a manuscript. It's very relaxing. It's even productive because it enables me to work on the project at hand without a divided mind. But I have to admit, it's not good business. Writing alone isn't enough. At some point you also have to pat your manuscript on the head and send it out into the great, wide world. And then you have to keep track of it and have your list ready for the next place you'll send it if you don't get a favorable response.

You've got to keep those plates spinning, or the show will be over.

My list didn't have enough outgoing listings on it. I'd been working on the new book, a very important plate to spin, but in the mean time, the other plates were wobbling on the brink of disaster. Time to take a day or so, regroup, and resend.

How about you? Are you keeping those plates spinning?

Saturday, June 19, 2010


As writers, I think our creative side needs a jolt every now and then. Experiencing a different viewpoint, interrupting the pattern of what we see on a daily basis, viewing a work of art or listening to thoughtful beautiful music can do that. Last night, I went to the Alhambra, a Moorish style restaurant in Chicago to watch and listen to Flamenco. And what a jolt it was!

I was utterly transported with the good company of both old friends and new as we watched the intricate footsteps and percussion that the dancers created. They used clapping, stomping, castanets, a seasoned Spanish singer and a small ensemble of musicians and dancers. The dances told stories of love, flirtation, rejection, joy and the excitement of living. To add to the experience, the restaurant is amazingly decorated with tiles and arches and mosaics and onion domes on the exterior.

As writers, it is also important for us to learn cultural similarities and cultural difference. Here in America, we live in an increasingly multi-cultural world. And, I choose to look at this as a tremendous opportunity! We can create a more interesting tapestry for our readers with the unusual textures and colors of others' backgrounds and ethnicities, and at the same time confirm the foundations of story-telling that transcend cultural differences.

So take a dip in the pool of Flamenco, or a Japanese garden, or an Ethiopian restaurant. Taste the flavors of life! God's imagination is endless!

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

And the Winner Is...

Not me. Not this time, anyway. The Highlights for Children's 2010 Fiction Contest is over for this year, and I just got a letter in the mail announcing the three winners. I can't wait to read the three stories. One thing I love about Highlights is their quality fiction. I'm sure these three winning stories were good ones.

And yet, I felt like a winner too, because my form letter from Highlights had a little note scrawled in the bottom right hand.

Dear Ms. MacKinney,
We like your writing . Please try us again!
Best wishes,
Joƫlle Dujardin

Just a few words, but great encouragement for a writer. Editors have zero time. Likewise, associate editors are busier than proverbial bees. A hand written note means a lot. Also, I realized later that if a SASE wasn't included (and I didn't include one) they stated they would not return your manuscript or respond. It was a surprise to hear from the editor under these conditions.

So I'm dedicating this post to Ms. Dujardin. Yeah, I didn't win this year, but it made my day to know that she enjoyed my story. I felt like a winner, because what greater pleasure is there for a writer beyond knowing that she wrote something that provided reading enjoyment for a reader? Ms. Dujardin, thank you for spending a little of your valuable time and some postage on that short note! It encouraged me!

Monday, June 14, 2010

Writing Lamaze: Breath! Write! Push!

I have come to the conclusion that writing a book is a lot like having a baby. If you're a guy, you'll probably have trouble making the leap here, but you're going to have to put on your imagination hat and try.

Getting that baby out there on the paper is hard work. You aren't going to feel like it sometimes, but if you want to deliver the story, you're going to have to push. Sweat will pour down your forehead. You'll feel a lot of discomfort. You'll wonder how all those other books ever ended up on the library shelves considering the amount 0f work required for just this first draft you're writing that isn't even very good. (I was amazed we ever came to have so many people walking around on the earth the first time I went through labor.)

Then, when that baby is finally out, you're so relieved. It's over, right?


I like to think of 0-6 months of having a child as the honeymoon time. The baby coos and gurgles, squirting out diapers from time to time, but for the most part everyone is happy. It can't talk back to you yet. It's pretty happy as long as it's fed, comfortable, and not too tired. But from the time that little person begins to figure out that a world exists, he spends all his energy trying to get that world to bend to his own little will. As a writer, you cannot bend to the will of your story. You have to train it to go where you want it to. This happens through your many drafts.

Your manuscript will be willful. I'll warn you now. There are going to be days that it wants it's own way, and you're going to have a time getting it to do what you want to (terrible twos). Sometimes you'll have to cut huge chunks out or change them around (think of this as orthodontia for your manuscript and be thankful it doesn't cost $5000). It won't always make sense (the teen years). About the only thing you have going for you is that it doesn't want the car keys. However, you can count on it to keep you up late at night.

This is the end of my not very eloquent post. Any comments from the rogues' gallery?

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Summer Solitude

Here we go! Summer is now in full swing. All four kids are home and how much writing have I done? NONE! I need a game plan, a schedule, a routine to make this summer be a fruitful one for writing.

I am trying to figure this out as I write. Perhaps waking up before the kids would be best. Other options are, putting on a 30 minute movie for them, or stealing away valuable husband and wife time after the kiddies retire for the evening. I need uninterrupted solitude to accomplish 30 minutes of writing productivity.

So this is my commitment. Starting Monday I will have an established summer routine. If only the critique meeting wasn't the day after that. Oh well, I have a few precious days left to obtain my objective.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Wishful Thinking

I wish that my writing would create more jobs. I wish that my writing would change attitudes. I wish that my writing would bring insight. I wish my writing would challenge falsehoods. I wish my writing would reconcile broken relationships. I wish that my writing would encourage those who are giving up. I wish that my writing would instill hope. I wish that my writing would change me, too. I wish that my writing would reflect Jesus and be inspired by the Holy Spirit.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Nosy Neighbor Syndrome: It's Okay—Writers Do That

I'm reading 101 Things You Didn't Know about Jane Austen at the moment. I mainly stick to fiction for children in reading, since that's what I write. But it isn't so surprising that I'd pick up a non-fiction book about Jane if you take into account that writers like to read about other writers and that I do enjoy an occasional biography. However, as I began the third section, I suddenly felt a little like a nosy neighbor peering through the window curtains trying to make out what was happening in someone else's house. What kind of fascination is it that we have for Jane Austen's life? She's been dead for a long time. Why are we so curious about her?

I cannot explain it, other than to say that as a writer, you've got to be nosy. Writers must be nosy about the people around them. Where else would we get material? Jane Austen was very social. I get the impression that she was, well, nosy. No doubt in a more or less impeccably polite and unobtrusive way, yet still, her eyes must have been always watching and her ears always listening. I believe she had such insight into characters because she studied people.

Knowing 101 obscure facts about Jane Austen might not make me a great writer, but studying people will help. What makes them tick? What causes them to make the decisions? What are they passionate about? Why? How do they react in different situations?

Here's your challenge today. Study a few people. Go to the park or the mall and sit on a bench and watch people. Use a newspaper or book to make it look like you're actually reading instead of spying. (Make sure it's right side up so you don't blow your cover.) Pick one of your subjects and write a journal entry from that person's point of view. Don't edit. Let the character tell you things about himself or herself that you didn't know. Keep these. You might end up using this character research at some point.

And here's to Jane Austen. Jane, you knew your stuff.

Friday, June 4, 2010

The Classics

I went to my bookshelves for an inventory of "The Classics" and this picture portrays what I came up with at a quick glance. Past masters of the craft, Jane Austen, Leo Tolstoy, Margaret Mitchell, Charlotte Bronte, William Makepeace Thackeray, Emily Bronte, and Louisa May Alcott were taken off my shelf. No I haven't read them all, maybe half, but their pages tell stories of how much writing has changed in centuries and decades gone by. These authors have stood the test of time and some still can be voiced as household names.

How times have changed. Authors of today cannot afford the same freedoms these men and women had with their pen. We must adapt to the "rules" of todays publishers in order to have any chance at getting our work that we've sweated and toiled over even considered.

Yesterday, writers could change POV within the same paragraph. They could put as much "fluff" in as they pleased. They could submit their work without being edited with a fine-toothed-comb.

I am working on a novel. I am aware that I cannot just pore out my heart onto the pages, but I must surrender myself to these rules every step of the way. I submitted a chapter to my writers group and was critiqued by ladies with far more experience then I. It was only a rough draft but it was pulled apart as it should be, to make it fit for a publishers eye.

Why is this? Why such a dramatic change in the classics of yesteryear and the hot selling, New York Times Best Sellers List authors of today? The reason I have been pondering seems crystal clear. Competition. In the past, there were not as many writers out there. Today, publishers have their "slush piles" overflowing on their desks where only the strong survive.

In the meantime, although I do appreciate the novels of today I always love a good classic. Where the author had the freedom to paint a picture of a realm of his or her own making. Forthright, unchecked and uninhibited by the demands of the day.