Wednesday, September 29, 2010


I know you've all been waiting with bated breath for my first interview, and it's finally here! *loud applause* 

As promised, I will also be doing a book give-a-way with not one, but TWO of Janette's books:  How To Take the Ex Out of Ex-boyfriend and her newest book My Double Life.  You can be entered into the drawing two ways:  leave a comment or become a follower of my blog (scroll down and look on the right-hand side of my blog to do this).  The drawing ends October 1st at midnight, so make sure to leave your comment before then!

And now, to introduce Janette:  
Janette Rallison is a prolific writer who has written 16 books, with more on the way.  Most of her books are targeted at the young adults audience, though they're a good read at any age.  Aside from this, she is a funny, gracious author who writes literature that manages to be clean, age-appropriate, and totally entertaining.  

What got you interested in writing?  
I’ve always been a daydreamer. Some kids have imaginary friends.  I had a whole city.  And since you can’t remember all of those daydreams, you’ve got to write them down.  Becoming a writer just seemed like a natural step.
Many of your books are for or about teenagers.  What has drawn you to this genre?  
I have three big reasons—my daughters.  I write the kind of books I think my daughters would like reading: funny, uplifting books, with good-hearted heroines.  Not all teenagers are filled with angst, hate, and disillusionment.  Not all parents are self-centered cretins who either ignore their children or use them to boost their own egos. These facts, however, are not readily discernable if you read a lot of YA books.  I like to think I’m a counterbalance to that sort of stuff.
Also, teenagers are fun to write about because everything means so much to them.  It’s hard to get as much emotion from adult characters.
A lot of people feel that in order to write successfully for teens, you have to be edgy or push boundaries.  Do you agree with that?  What do you think are important themes or elements when writing for that age group?
There is certainly an abundance of edgy YA books and a lot of them are successful.  Sometimes I hear authors talking about pushing boundaries and I wonder which boundaries they’re talking about.  As far as I can tell, all the boundaries have pretty much been bulldozed over. It’s to the point that if you want a G-rated book for your teen, you have to really look to find one.  But I’m proof that YA books don’t have to be edgy.  Mine aren’t, and I’ve sold over a million copies.
I think the themes and elements for YA books are limitless.  If it’s a good life lesson, it can be in a YA book.  What I hate to see are misleading themes though.  My personal pet peeve is all the sex in YA books.  The overall message of many books seems to be that if you’re in love it’s all right, and if you use a condom you’re safe from consequences.  Love doesn’t guarantee commitment and condoms don’t prevent all STDs.  There are 19 million new STDs every year and half of those happen to young people. Many aren’t curable and will cause pain, infertility, and cancer.  I think if anything, we need to be warning teens against having sex, not inadvertently encouraging them into risky behavior.
You use a lot of humor in your writing.  Knowing you personally, I know that you are naturally funny.  Does it come easy to you in your writing as well?
Writing humor might be easier for me than for a lot of authors, but humor is one of the most difficult, if not the most difficult type of writing to do.  I’ve loved writing every single one of my books, but the problem with writing funny books is that people then expect there to be humor in your next books.  I never know if a book is going to be funny or not when I sit down to write it, and I’m always worried that it won’t be and people will be disappointed.  It’s a lot of pressure and I’m always so happy when I think of something funny to include.  That said, I’m writing a paranormal romance right now that I decided from the start would have no comedy in it. To tell you the truth, it’s been nice.
Is there one aspect of writing that you really enjoy?  Is there anything about it that you really don't enjoy?
My favorite part of writing is when I’m working on a scene and ideas flow and it turns out better than I ever expected.  I feel like I’ve been a part of something magical when that happens.  My least favorite part of writing is getting revision letters and realizing I have to make all sorts of changes.  Doing revisions is sort of like playing the block game, Jenga.  Sometimes you can take things out or put things in and it doesn’t really change the structure of your book.  But sometimes editors ask you to make changes (or you realize on your own that you need to make the changes) and you don’t know how you can manage it without having the whole thing fall apart.
You have a big family.  How do you balance that with your writing career?  
Well, in theory I write when the kids are in school and stop when they get home, but a lot of this year I’ve been behind in deadlines and I’ve been working every moment I can squeeze writing in, and not showering, and feeding the kids frozen dinners.  Lesson learned: do not take on too many projects.  I’m hoping next year will be more sane.
Do any of your kids want to be writers?
I have one daughter who talks about it, so who knows.
When I was little, I remember the first book that really moved me.  Do you have one that did that for you?  What are some of the books that you feel have influenced your life?
One of the first books I really loved was The Phantom Tollbooth.  When I was a bit older, I loved reading Ellen Conford’s books.  Anyone who has ever read Ellen’s teen books will be able to tell how they influenced me.  She wrote funny, romantic stories.  My style is also a lot like hers—conversational and easy to read.  She wasn’t heavy on description or poetic ways of saying things.  Her books sounded like they were narrated by teens instead of English professors masquerading as teens.
 If you could give one piece of advice to someone who is interested in becoming a writer, what would it be?
 Learn the craft and read a lot.  I don’t think you can be successful without doing both of those things.
Is there anything you'd like to share about what you're working on right now?  What can we look forward to in the future?
 My Unfair Godmother comes out April 12th.  It is teen fairy godmother, Chrysanthemum Everstar’s, next bungled assignment.  Expect to see appearances from Robin Hood, Rumpelstiltskin, and another ill fated trip to the Middle Ages.   Lots of fun.
I’m also working on (doing the dreaded revisions, actually) a book that has dragons in it.  It’s lots of fun too.  Then maybe I’ll get to work on my paranormal romance again.  Or maybe I’ll just shower . . .
Thanks again, Janette.  If you'd like to learn more about her and her books, just check out her link on the side of my blog!  

Monday, September 27, 2010

Green Eggs, Ham, and Other Fun Ideas

I love literature. My high school English teacher would call this a "water is wet" statement (in other words, stating the obvious). But because I like reading so much, my kids have fortunately picked up the habit as well-- at least the ones who know how to read.

Here are a couple of fun things we've done to encourage reading, and some other great ideas I plan on using soon:

-My young daughter just learned to read her first "long" book, "Green Eggs and Ham" by Dr. Seuss. So what did we do to celebrate? Well, she read it to the family and then we had to celebrate with (of course) green eggs, ham, and potato casserole. All the kids had a great time.
-We have Harry Potter parties. We actually copied this idea from some family members. My two oldest kids (8 and 10 yrs. old) are reading Harry Potter. After they read a book, we invite friends, pop some popcorn, and watch the movie together. It's been a fun, easy way to celebrate our children's accomplishment.
-Poetry night at the Cafe (got this one from a friend who posted it on her blog). Each of the kids picks a favorite poem and then one they've written themselves. They get to read this at our own private coffee house. And you can't have a poetry reading without hot chocolate, coffee cake, and other homemade goodies.
-library day. This one is easy because almost every library already has programs in place to encourage reading. Just check out your local library and see what's going on (most bookstores have a children's hour too). If there isn't anything, start your own. Give kids a reward for every book, chapter, etc. that they read.
-Look online. We were looking into the State Fair and discovered they have a reading program. For every book your child reads (there's a form to download and fill out), they get a free ride at the fair. What a great deal. For my kids, that means twelve rides total!

Well, that's all I have time for right now, but there are many other great ideas out there-- you just have to look.

Hands down the best way to get your kids to read is for them to see you doing it. I have a general policy that I read everything my children do-- especially as they get older. It's an easy way to see what they're getting exposed to, and provides a great opening for conversation with your kids.

Happy reading!

Sunday, September 26, 2010

My Mother Gave Birth To Me, One Thing Led To Another, And Now I Have 150 Children

This post is about beginnings. Today I sat in front of a congregation, surrounded by over a hundred children singing and speaking in church, and I thought, "how did I get to this moment?"

So I took one step back. "Well, it all started when I got up this morning..."

No, it really goes further than that. So I took a leap back. "It started when we moved into this house and..."

Nope, even further. So I jumped back in time through all the decisions that led me to this point. Marriage, the mission where I met my husband, the internship in D.C. that made me want to go on a mission, growing up with a dad who got me interested in politics...

Still, was that truly the beginning? Certainly there are a million different factors and decisions (including my birth) that led up to that one moment where I'm standing in front of the pulpit cheering on all those happy, wiggling, giggling children.

As a reader, we often assume that the beginning of the book is the beginning of the story, but it never is. A book is actually supposed to begin in the middle of the action-- so the reader feels they are instantly thrown into it right at the exciting part. Harry Potter aside, most books would be very boring (and predictable) if they all began at the birth of the main character.

But the author always has to know that back story. They always have to know what got their characters where they are and how it effected them. Otherwise, the characters seem flat and undeveloped. If we only give them attributes (this character is grumpy, or this one is sarcastic, or beautiful, or stupid, etc), but we don't know in our minds why they're that way, our characters will almost always seem unrealistic, shallow, and a stereotype.

So as writers we must begin at the beginning-- even if most of what we write is left in the pages of our notebooks and not in the pages of our books.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Book Banning: A Very Sticky Topic

Have any of you read the book "Speak" by Laurie Halse Anderson? I haven't, but I've heard a lot about it lately. An associate professor in Missouri criticized it in a local paper as "soft porn" because the book describes and deals with the fall-out from a girl getting raped.

I will not comment on the controversy because, as I've said, I haven't read the book. But it brings up a very interesting question. Is it ever appropriate to ban books or block them from being in public schools and libraries?

If you ask most authors, you'll get a resounding no. It is never appropriate to censor.

But I have to admit that I've struggled with this topic a little. It seems to be a slippery slope whichever way you go. If you say some books should be banned based on your individual ethics, what stops other people from doing the same thing with books you approve of? People who believe differently than you. What if someone decides the Bible ought to be banned, or the Koran? The right to choose for yourself-- free agency-- is a fundamental right that ought to be protected vehemently. Banning books could definitely infringe on that right and become a nightmare very quickly.

On the other hand, are all books created equal? Is the value and virtue of the written word so great that all things written must be considered valuable or virtuous? Or is it possible that some books really aren't worth reading? That some may have a real and actual damaging influence. In this world of moral relativism, it seems it's never okay to stand up and say, "I think this is wrong, and I will fight against its harmful influence." People who speak out are often tagged as hateful and prejudiced (and they are labeled these terms in angry, judgmental, and degrading ways by the very people who are proclaiming to be on the side of love, tolerance, and forbearance). Are we so concerned about free agency that we have robbed people of the agency to decide when something is bad?

I honestly don't know the answer. Part of me feels like shouting, "Can't we all just get along?"

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Like finding an anonymous Post-it note on your door that says, "I hate you"

Today I opened my email and, to my surprise, got a rejection letter.  It wasn't even signed by an agency or publisher-- just "the editors."

Since I haven't sent out a submission in over four months, I'm a little baffled at who could have sent it.   Most authors say that they usually had at least one "practice" manuscript when they began writing.  The first attempt is rarely ever great.  So I put this project to bed and chalked the whole thing up as experience a long time ago.

I can't tell you how glad I am to learn that it can still come back to haunt me.  I'll have to remember that next time I'm feeling particularly excited about my writing, or I'm just having too good of a day...

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Clockwork Angel by Cassandra Clare

When sixteen-year-old Tessa Gray crosses the ocean to find her brother, her destination is England, the time is the reign of Queen Victoria, and something terrifying is waiting for her in London's Downworld, where vampires, warlocks and other supernatural folk stalk the gaslit streets. Only the Shadowhunters, warriors dedicated to ridding the world of demons, keep order amidst the chaos.

Kidnapped by the mysterious Dark Sisters, members of a secret organization called The Pandemonium Club, Tessa soon learns that she herself is a Downworlder with a rare ability: the power to transform, at will, into another person. What's more, the Magister, the shadowy figure who runs the Club, will stop at nothing to claim Tessa's power for his own.

Friendless and hunted, Tessa takes refuge with the Shadowhunters of the London Institute, who swear to find her brother if she will use her power to help them. She soon finds herself fascinated by—and torn between—two best friends: James, whose fragile beauty hides a deadly secret, and blue-eyed Will, whose caustic wit and volatile moods keep everyone in his life at arm's length . . . everyone, that is, but Tessa. As their search draws them deep into the heart of an arcane plot that threatens to destroy the Shadowhunters, Tessa realizes that she may need to choose between saving her brother and helping her new friends save the world. . . . and that love may be the most dangerous magic of all.

My Review:
This book would be classified as both paranormal romance and "steam punk." For those of you who don't know what that means (I didn't until I started going to workshops), it's literature that takes place during the Victorian era-- during the time of the steam engine. Most of the books have some sort of mechanical element to them. A good example of this would be the latest Sherlock Holmes movie with Robert Downey Jr.

I really liked Cassandra Clare's first series, The Mortal Instruments, so I knew that I would like this companion series (takes place in same world, but with different characters and in a time period). I assumed that it would keep my interest, assumed that it would be well-written, and that the characters would be compelling. And it was all of those things.

One thing I struggled with, however, is that she changed the POV irregularly. Most of the time, the story is told (3rd person) through the main character Tessa's point of view. But a few times she jumps into other characters' heads.

Generally, books are told from one or two points of view because that allows the reader to get to know those characters-- to experience the story through their eyes. The limitations with this kind of writing is that the reader should know everything the viewpoint character knows. They should discover things at the same time. You can't be inside a character's head for an entire story, and have that character perform some crazy action and say, "I knew I was going to do that all along." The reader feels cheated and thinks, "What? When were you thinking that? I was in your brain this whole time, and I never saw you have those thoughts."

The problem with Clare's story is that she puts you in their heads without revealing their secrets. It puts distance between the readers and that characters because it feels almost as if the character is aware there is someone inside his head, so he's not going to think about specific things. Those "secret" specific things, I might add, shape and direct most of what the characters do.  Having said that, (and I took way too much time explaining it), I didn't think is was a significant detraction from the book, just something I stumbled over.

My only other critique is not with her book specifically, but with most books in a series that are written by a popular author. My personal opinion as that they leave their books too open-ended. They have enough of a following that even the first book of the series doesn't have to have a lot of closure because they know the second book will get purchased. With first time authors, most books (even in a series) have to be written as "stand alones" because the printing of a second book may depend on the success of the first. And nobody really likes to read a book all the way through and not get closure on the story-- at least in part.  But hey, if I ever have four books on the NY Times Best-Seller list, I may take a few liberties like that myself...

Overall, I would recommend this book to others. I wouldn't have a problem with any teen reading it-- there are some sexual references, but it all takes place "off stage" and nothing is described in too graphic of detail. It's a quick read and I think she does a good job of representing the time period while still retaining modern-day sensibilities (although I'm not an expert on this-- so others who know more about the Victorian age may be bothered by it).

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

I turned on my computer, one thing led to another, and I killed off the adults

So here's the question: Why are the parents always killed off in children's books?

Before I became a writer, I used to think it was a secret liberal agenda to discount the parents' influence in the home. Yes, I really thought that. I'm a bit of a conspiracy theorist. My philosophy: If it walks like a duck, quacks like a duck, and looks like a duck, then it's probably a dog working undercover for the CIA.

But liberal agendas aside, I have discovered another very practical reason why the adults must be taken out. You see, no discerning adults would ever knowingly let their children combat super-evil wizards, face off with Hades, or go into a magic wardrobe by themselves and discover a world where they are hunted by the White Witch. It just wouldn't happen. But writing a book where the child only does what a good parent would allow them to do is... well... extremely boring.

So, you have to get rid of the parents. The easiest way, of course, is to kill them off. Car accidents, untimely illness, and war are all very convenient ways to get rid of them.

Another good way is to remove the child from the home. Send them off to school, summer camp, vacation with a family friend. Then throw them into trouble with no adult for guidance and, boom, you've got your story.

But what are some other creative ways to get rid of parents? Any ideas? Here are some of my brainstorms (yes, some of these have been done before):
-parents lose memory, forget they have a child
-send child (or parent) back in time, or to the future
-parent (or child) abducted by villain
-parent goes on vacation, leaves child with irresponsible babysitter
-kid is at school, store, playground, etc. away from parent
-parent takes magic potion, goes into coma
-parent takes magic potion, shrinks into a child
-parent takes magic potion, becomes evil
(really, the possibilities are endless with magic potions)
-a huge storm comes and sweeps child away to magical land
-child bumps head, forgets where he/she lives
-child does something horribly wrong by accident or on purpose, afraid to go home
-parents move, child gets lost
-child is mad at parent and leaves (that can be combined with a number of above options)
-and my personal favorite, parents get torn apart by a pack of wild dogs (because, as Jack Handy so eloquently points out, nothing tears apart a family faster than that does)

Well, that's all I have time to brainstorm right now. But I'd love to hear anyone else's ideas if you've got them. What do you think is the best way to eliminate parents?

Sunday, September 12, 2010

I went to my kids' school, one thing led to another, and now I'm looking forward to a sleepless night....

Makes you wonder what the connection is, doesn't it?  I'm seriously considering making all my post titles like this-- a continuation of my blog theme "and one thing led to another..."

So what was the thing that brought me from my kids' school to my sleepless night?  

A cold.

 Yep, I have a cold and I'm miserable.  I'm fairly certain I caught it at that giant petri dish that is an elementary school (not just mine-- all schools, or any place where there are large gatherings of kids sharing things they shouldn't).  And I am now in the cough stage, which means I will be up all night and by morning my ribs, back, and throat will hurt.  Oh joy.

So what does this have to do with writing?

Absolutely nothing.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

All Mapped Out

                           Sometimes, this is what my brain looks like:

But most of the time, it pretty much looks like this:

Over the last few weeks my manuscript has gone adrift. I had the first third of the book figured out, and the final scenes are all done, but all the stuff in the middle was getting, well, muddled.
But over the last couple days I've finally gotten it all mapped out! It's due, in large part, to a handful of very patient people who have been willing to walk with me through the tangle of thoughts in my head. I must say, every writer needs "people." If anybody thinks writing is a solitary activity, they are sorely mistaken...
But getting back to the point, this morning I had a free hour, so I ran down to Barnes & Noble, pulled out my notebook, and...
I mapped out my manuscript. Yep, it's done! I was able to climb over the roadblocks still in my way and figure out where this crazy story is going.
Not only that, but I got a rough sketch of what the rest of the books in the series will be about (and when I say rough, I mean rough. A few sentences, really. But hey, I only had an hour).
Whew! So glad the hard part is over. All I have left to do is, you know, write the book, find an agent, find an editor, get it published...
It's all downhill from here. Or uphill. Depending on how you look at it...

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Twilight Anonymous

At the beginning of this year I went to a writing conference where Brandon Sanderson was speaking (if you want to know more about who he is, check out his link on the right side of my blog). One of the things he talked about is the elitist attitude we have as writers towards popular fiction. If a book or series reaches pop culture status (Harry Potter, Twilight, etc.) then we automatically assume it can't be good. Because, let's get real, if the lay reader finds it worthwhile then it obviously is missing academic merit, right? Right?

This phenomenon fascinates me. If Stephanie Meyer were to make an appearance at a writing conference, the crowd to see and hear her would no doubt be gigantic. But don't you dare admit you like her work in those same circles when she's not there. Oh no, that kind of confession must be made in dark rooms (preferably inhabited by vampires) and whispered conversations. And it's not just with Stephanie Meyer. J.K. Rowling went through the same thing when her books first made it big.

Why do we do this? Why do we assume that if a book has mass appeal, it must be junk? Brandon Sanderson had an interesting theory. He didn't believe it was because we were so confident about writing, but because we were so insecure (that's often the case with arrogance, isn't it?). As fantasy and writers, we have such a low opinion of our art that if it appeals to the population as a whole we want to disown it. We're used to being the underdogs, the black sheep, the... sorry, I can't think of another outcast animal metaphor. But you get the idea.

In his lecture, Sanderson gave the audience a gentle rebuke. We ought not do this to each other. We ought to be more supportive and grateful for those who are opening doors for the rest of us.

So that's my goal for the day. I will try to give more praise for the good things that have come from those uberfamous novels, and have more gratitude for what they've done for the business.


My name is Melinda Carroll. I'm thirty (something) years old, and I'm a fan of popular fiction.