Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Oz, Reimagined

Spelled by Betsy Schow

Puns, fairy tales and snark, oh my!

Spelled is a laugh-out-loud romp through Oz with new and unique characters and new twists on old ones. Schow has cleverly intertwined several Oz characters from The Wonderful Wizard of Oz (Dorothy, Tin Man, Scarecrow) and The Marvelous Land of Oz  (Mombi) with the classic fairy tales of Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm. She includes modern pop culture references with fantasy names like Glitter, instead of Twitter, UPS Service -United Pegasus Service, and Hans Christian Louboutin designer heels.

Dorthea, the Emerald Princess, goes on an adventure seeking to put the order of magic that she unwittingly changed by a selfish wish, back to normal. No one ever heard of an Emerald princess with green fire for hair marrying a chimera. And no Emerald princess ever had a smart-mouthed handmaiden, who was filled with more fear than friendship, causing her betrayal. But Dorthea, Rexi, and Kato make this fast-paced, magical adventure a story the reader will not quickly forget. Kudos for humor and magic.

Four stars ****

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Writing Tip - Beware of Repetitive Redundancies.

This was originally printed in the SCBWI Bulletin a few years ago, but in critiquing several manuscripts for an upcoming conference, I thought it might be helpful to repost it on my blog for those who insist on writing repetitive redundancies.

Repetitive Redundancies
By Gayle C. Krause

What kind of title is that? It means the same thing. Exactly my point! Many new writers are absolutely certain that they have assembled together a manuscript adhering to the basic essentials of good writing, combined together with creative imaginings, or true fact, which in my own personal opinion, is exactly the same as stamping it with a negative rejection form before it even gets sent out.

Redundancies are common in the writing of new authors; even some seasoned ones let them slip by. A writer must be aware of words that say the same thing twice. Being a writer in several critique groups, both live and online, I often see simple phrases written by fellow authors, which employ double words that have the same meaning. Sometimes writers, especially new ones, tend to get caught up in the content of their story or article, and fail to realize their wordiness simply destroys the flow. Readers then must reread the paragraph to understand what the writer was trying to say.

Some manuscript doctors suggest you slash and burn, cutting out unneeded words to make the piece more efficient. Although clarity and conciseness is our goal as writers, cutting out our favorite words or passages is not the key, however, checking for a few simple ways to reduce wordiness is.

Redundant phrases are the first place to look. Redundancies arise from three sources:
1.     wordy phrases
2.     obvious qualifiers
3.     using two or more synonyms together

One pair of words most commonly overused is repeat again. Either use repeat, or again, but not both. Below are a few others.

i.e. advance planning, invited guest, old adage, continue on, end result, final conclusion, free gift, identical match, new innovation, refer back, sudden impulse, sum total

It is also the author’s responsibility to choose powerful words for their writing. This technique is referred to as direct writing. They should make their words do their own work and not prop them up with over inflated phrases that don’t really mean anything. These phrases tend to make the piece wordy. Stronger words without supporting phrases make the piece more readable.

i.e. suggestions for replacements of wordy phrases

a considerable number of………………….many
at the present time………………………….now
based on the fact that………………………because
despite the fact that………………………..although
in connection with…………………………regarding

There are numerous strong words, which can replace weak ones or wordy phrases. The use of a thesaurus is essential in writing, and even then some phrases or words still need to be replaced.

            By keeping these few tips in mind as you write, or revise you will pare down verbosity and make your writing stronger, clearer and more concise. A writing style that is crisp and clear will attract an editor’s eye. J

Ratgirl writing sample:

Whoever said the teen years were the best of a girl’s life didn’t come from Metro City. Hell, they can’t imagine what it’s like to be me, living in a sewer tunnel by day, and foraging the forest for food, or scavenging through abandoned mansions at night. Anything I find, that I can’t use to survive this hellhole I trade for money.
And then, there’s the Megamark Guards, who patrol this dying city. I avoid them at all cost. One never knows when they’ll turn on you. I’ve seen them beat up the homeless on a wager, or for sheer entertainment. No, it’s not an easy life.
We used to live in brick houses and modern apartments, but the sun’s savage rays turned our lives upside down. It took a while to get used to sleeping in the day, but night, as dangerous as it is, is the only time we can venture to the surface to seek food or trade our services.

Between the deadly daytime sun, and the vindictive Guards, I spend half my time surviving, and the other half planning how to. If this is the best part of my life, I might as well be dead. Only one thing keeps me alive . . . .

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Interview with Circus Train author, Jennifer Cole Judd

Welcome to The Storyteller’s Scroll, Jenn. 

I’m so pleased to have you as a guest today. I thoroughly enjoyed your picture book, The Circus Train and would like you to share a little bit about yourself and your writing goals for my readers.

 The first few questions relate to your “writing life.”

1. How long have you been writing?  

Thanks so much for having me, Gayle!  I have been writing for a long time--my very first poems I wrote when I was around five years old.  My mom still has  scraps of paper with a poem I wrote about Christmas, Halloween, and, interestingly enough--a train! (Only this one was a train to heaven, not the circus--still kind of a cool train, but without the prancing poodles.)

2. Where do you write?  

I have a little desk space right next to my laundry room with my computer, a pinboard of quotes and inspiration, and a picture of a lovely view of Ireland (it doesn't have a window, so I have to improvise). But I do sometimes scribble ideas on scratch paper, notebook paper, etc.  I have been known to talk into my phone if an idea bonks me on the head while I'm doing my other jobs (including carpooling a circus of kids around town). 

3. How long ago did you get the idea for Circus Train?  

The inspiration for CIRCUS TRAIN came way back in 2006 when I took my young family to the circus one August afternoon. Watching my preschool daughter's eyes widen and hearing her gasp or giggle with each new act was an experience I wanted to bottle up and open again and again...I came home with that imagery fresh in my mind.

4. When did you start the first draft and how long, from that point, until the book was completed? 

CIRCUS TRAIN began as a poem--short, tight verses that focused on the sensory experience of a day at the circus. At the time, I was also in Anastasia Suen's Intensive Picture Book Workshop (a wonderful course!), which helped me learn the bones of picture book writing, and flesh the story out to picture book length.  

I was only just beginning my journey as a children's writer back then, and my focus had been on poetry (and still tends to be my focus).  I was still new and shy about submitting back then, so I only subbed it twice before I decided to put it on the shelf.  

I put it on the shelf so long that I didn't pull it out again until 2012, as a matter of fact.  Talk about fresh eyes!  This time, however, I had had six years of writing and learning the craft a bit more (plus some really awesome critique partners) that helped me get the story in shape to send out again.  

Still, I was thrilled and (honestly) shocked when my editor contacted me to say they wanted to acquire the book, a few short months after submitting it. Definitely a (happy) surprise!

5. What were your 1-2 biggest learning experience(s) or surprise(s) throughout the publishing process?  

I have learned that the publishing process takes a long time--CIRCUS TRAIN was acquired in 2012, but wasn't published until 2015.  Having patience is definitely part of the experience! Book promoting has also been a big learning experience for me; fortunately there are wonderful resources available to children's writers now, from SCBWI to great online groups like 12x12, PiBoIdMo, ReFoReMo...learning how to be a partner in the success of a published book has been an exciting (if sometimes overwhelming!) process.  I definitely recommend that all writers start early, getting involved and learning the aspects of the trade.

6. Can you share a favorite circus memory?  

Definitely, my favorite experience was that day that inspired the book.  When the clowns, walking on stilts, fired streams of confetti into the crowd and my kids squealed, well, that was kinda magical. Along with our bright blue tongues from all the cotton candy we ate that day.

7. If you were a circus performer, what would you be and why?  

In my dreams, I would be a trapeze artist--I think it's the closest thing to feeling like you're flying, and I have always wished I could fly! 

But if I were to get hired based on talent alone?  I would definitely be a circus clown--I am really good at tripping, being goofy, and cramming lots of people into a car.
8. What’s next for you, Jenn? Will you write another picture book? Or maybe a poetry collection or something in between? 

I've been focusing on poems lately, with a few picture books percolating at varying degrees.  I've been feeling the pull to write something lengthier as of late, too, but we will see if my attention span will hold out for that!

Thanks so much for sharing your precious time. Please list the links below so my readers can easily access your book for purchase.

Where to buy the book:

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

All Aboard the Rhyming Circus Train

The Circus Train gives quite a ride.
It takes the child right inside
the circus tent, with lights aglow.
Get ready for “The Greatest Show.”

Like elephants that love to dance,
and fancy horses in a prance.
Dogs on balls. A tightrope girl.
Acrobats that spin and twirl.

Trapeze ladies flying high.
Clowns with faces full of pie.
Done in simple perfect rhymes
It will be read a thousand times.

Once you board the Circus Train
You’ll love to ride it all again.

Circus Train is a wonderful book for children, parents, and Pre-K teachers. Jennifer Cole Judd’s simple rhyming text is a treat for children’s ears and the story is a great introduction to young readers of the fun and stimulation of a circus. Parents reading to their child will have many discussions about the characters found in the colorful illustrations. And Pre-K Directors could most definitely incorporate it into other curriculum lessons like math, science and social studies. Great job, Ms. Judd. Looking forward to more.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

GPS for Your Novel’s Main Character

GPS for Your Novel’s Main Character 
Map Your Way Into Their Personality

Gentle Passionate Sassy/Snarky
Had a session with my critique group today, and we discussed how to get into our character’s heads to make their story more believable. This led me to come up with a list of ways to achieve that goal.
1.    Write a daily journal in your MC’s voice for a week. You may find he/she is giving you an insight to their problem.
2.    Or you may find the solution to something that has been preventing you from moving the story forward.
 3.   List the their most obvious traits that make them a complex character and let it come out in their dialogue and attitude.
4.   If that doesn’t work read through your favorite YA novel, or one that is in the same genre as your WIP, and write a few sentences about the protagonist using the following prompts:
a.   What is their problem?
b.   What is their motivation to obtain a solution to that problem, including internal and external motivators?
c.    What traits make them complex (and either help or hurt their quest to solve their problem)?
d.   What conflicts arise because he or she tries to solve their problem?
At the end of this writing exercise, you’ll have a rough road map of the character (and also how the protagonist’s choices influence the plot). Once you see an example, you can begin to develop your own character road map and define the elements that create a living, breathing protagonist. Good luck!