Posted in MG Novels, So Many Good Books

Boy Bites Bug

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday

Today I’m sharing a contemporary book, Boy Bites Bug (Abrams, 2018) by Rebecca Petruck. This is a story about friendship, prejudice, and learning about yourself. Plus there’s bug jokes and wrestling, which makes it fun.

Middle schooler Will Nolan tries to divert everyone’s attention from his best friend’s racial comment to Eloy, the new kid at school. Eating a bug gives Will notoriety and helps him come up with an unusual idea for a school project. But, he’ll need help from Eloy. Darryl’s already mad. Will this ruin their friendship?

Rebecca is also the author of the YA novel, Steering toward Normal. You can read about her here.

Posted in MG Novels, So Many Good Books

Last of the Name

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday

I’m continuing reading historical mg novels with the really good Last of the Name (Carolrhoda Books, 2019) by Rosanne Parry.

Twelve-year-old Daniel O’Carolan and his sixteen-year-old sister Kathleen have lost so much. First their father, then brothers and mother, and now Granny on their way from Ireland to America. To survive, Danny must pretend to be a girl and hire on with Kathleen as housemaids. But he has to be himself sometimes and slips away early mornings in his rightful clothes and sings and dances. Can he keep his secret? And the job? He and Kathleen have to stay together. But it seems their troubles in Ireland have followed them to America.

This book is set in 1863 New York City, during the Civil War, and the terribly sad draft riots. You’ll meet immigrants from Ireland, Italy, Germany, plus black freedmen, and everyone is trying to find or keep a job.

In the back of the book you’ll find book partners–other books from the time period. Read more about that here. I definitely understand some more of the issues than I did before (such as Irish Catholics and English Protestants.)

Go here to see what books Rosanne likes to read.

I’ve recommended several of her other books here as well: a YA and another mg.

Posted in Craft, It's Not Just Books, The Nitty Gritty of Writing for Children

Short Story Revision

Years ago a magazine editor responded to my initial submission with a letter requesting me to make changes and to resubmit the story on spec. Excited about her interest, I made the changes, cutting the manuscript from over 700 words to less than 500.

The editor wrote again: “You’ve done a great job on this revision! However…” and she went on to say how part of the story wasn’t realistic. I politely wrote back expressing why I thought it was realistic, but also offering to revise it.

The editor’s next letter began: “Sometimes the simplest stories are the trickiest to get right! We like this a lot, but…” She then pointed out a problem that made me say “OUCH!—I should have seen that.” I fixed it and sent the story again. This time my reply was an acceptance!

Of course, the editor could have sent a letter saying, “No, it still doesn’t work for us.” If that had happened, I’d have been disappointed, but still would have sent the improved manuscript off to another market.

Here are ten tips to help you with your next revision:

  1. Refresh. Set your manuscript aside for several weeks.Don’t look at it or even think about it. When you return to the manuscript, your goal is to read it as if you’ve never seen it before.
  2. Reformat. Change the font size or style, before rereading. Even simply changing margins will help you see the manuscript differently.
  3. Have someone else read it aloud. It’s amazing the mistakes I hear in a manuscript despite having silently read it over and over again. I also hear where the reader stumbles or doesn’t give my desired emphasis—both hints that I need to work on those sections. I may even realize I can’t decide who is talking without the visual cues of new paragraphs.
  4. Get your writing reviewed by other writers and listen to their critique with an open mind. Don’t automatically shut out ideas and suggestions. Even if they don’t work for you, looking through another’s eyes can stimulate your mind. However, if several point out a problem, you know you haven’t reached your target yet.
  5. Don’t stifle your own reactions. I don’t know how many times my inner voice responds to someone else’s comment with, “You knew that wasn’t quite right, didn’t you!” I also like asking myself if my story came full circle. If I can’t give myself an honest yes, I have more work to do.
  6. Request help. Sometimes, I know something isn’t working, but don’t know where to go next. Another writer may make a simple suggestion that turns the light on for me.
  7. Re-examine. Ask others what they think the theme or premise is. If you’re writing is working, their answer should be close to what you envision. Tell them what emotion you’re hoping to evoke in a scene and ask if you accomplished it. Ask them to state your story problem. If your reaction is “Wow, they didn’t get it,” it probably means you didn’t give it clearly.
  8. Renovate with viewpoint. Not just from 3rd to 1st person, although that can make a difference, too, but change who is telling the story. Make that boy a girl. Or see it through her best friend’s eyes instead of her own.
  9. Reshape. Changing the form sometimes purges the dross. Try writing poetry instead of prose, diary entries, or a newspaper report of the events. You may discover the story takes off on its own in another format.
  10. Rewrite. All the thought stirring usually motivates me to get to rewriting. Sometimes it’s with excitement; sometimes with frustration at how I’ve fallen short.

Whenever I feel like giving up, I remember how revision took my manuscript to published short story in Highlights for Children (April 2000). That makes it much easier for me to revise.