Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Sent- - Margaret Peterson Haddix

Warning: spoilers.
Hello again all!
I'm back to book reviews for the time being. My most recent read was Sent By Margaret Peterson Haddix. It's the second in a new series called The Missing. All in all, it was a good book. I'm always impressed when an author can accurately create another time period or in this case an experience with time travel that seems accurate. If I were writing, I'd get all confused with who was supposed to be doing what and how to explain anomalies and the like that it would be an utter mess. This is why I stick with realistic fiction. I can deal with real.

Haddix does a fantastic job of portraying the 1400s. Her use of the characters that are pulled into the 15th century seems realistic. I especially enjoyed the use of what she calls "tracers." This would be what was originally supposed to happen the first time around in history. Since there are now characters who are essentially messing with time, the reader can often see the tracer doing something different. This ranges from lips moving to different words, to hands coming out of the body in a ghost-like fashion, to the whole tracer (A "copy" of the person) doing something totally different. Haddix's descriptions played easily like a movie in my head. I can see this becoming a teen movie in about 5 years. Not only that, but there is a ton of room for more stories.

In the first book, Found, Jonah, his friend, Chip, and various other children discover that they are stolen children from the past. They don't know who they are, but scientists from the future are now trying to send them back to their original time period so that time won't get screwed up. The problem is that they don't know that they are stolen children and aren't really excited about being shoved back into a time period that they know nothing about, especially ones without Ipods and television and indoor plumbing. Book one ends with Jonah, Katherine (Jonah's sister), Chip and another boy named Alex being sent to the 15th century. Apparently, Chip and Alex are Edward V and his brother Richard. Jonah and Katherine are there by accident and are determined to save Chip and Alex from what is most likely a fatal outcome.

I'll skip the details so you can read it without knowing what's going on, but in the end Jonah and the other kids are back home only to be asked to leave to another time period. Jonah accepts the challenge and is sucked back into who knows when. We still don't know who Jonah really is (in history, anyway) and that is a question that lingers in the back of our minds throughout the whole first and second books. Since there are thirty or so kids who were stolen from time in the first novel, I'm hoping that we don't have to see all thirty stories to see who Jonah is.

For a middle grade book, this is fantastic. If, as you read this, you discover that I seem less than enthusiastic, it's not by any means because of the story itself. It is well written, interesting and complex, yet able to be easily read and understood by middle grade kids. I think my tastes in books has been refining a lot lately, and I need to choose higher YA or adult books. The few middle grade books just don't do it for me any more. I'm sure you'll begin to see those changes in my next few reads. In the mean time, if you have a child in the middle grade age range, especially boys, I'm sure they'd love The Missing series.

I'll leave you at last with a question or two:
1. If you could be anyone in history, who would you like to be?
2. If you could go back in time and change anything, what would it be?

Friday, March 12, 2010

Partial Writing Success

For those of you who follow me on Twitter or Facebook, you know about my writing endeavors as well as my successes and failures. For those of you who don't, let me take a minute to explain.

It started about three years ago when I was still teaching middle school English. During that time I felt compelled to read what my students were reading, so I dove headfirst into the growing pile of books on my shelves. The more I read, the more I loved YA lit, not to mention the Scholastic Tab book orders that gave teachers free books with student orders. (Thank you Scholastic. I love you. I love you.) Every month, I'd order more books until my bookshelf was overflowing into piles on the floor. Every month, I'd read as many as I could between grading papers, and teaching, not to mention my home duties of being a wife and mom.

A few months had passed and with many books that I read, I found myself saying, "I could write better than that." Then I felt that God was saying to me. "O.k., then. Do it!" So, I immediately shouted back, "You need to give me a subject!" and he whispered back. "Abortion."

Whoa! Abortion? That's a little hefty, God. I've never had an abortion. Actually, I don't even know anyone who has. (Well, I probably do, but it's not like that's the first thing you talk about when you meet someone new.) So, I promptly said, "Choose someone else." You know what he said to me? "No!" He said no! Can you believe that? So, I told him. "Look, you've got the wrong girl, God. I'm not qualified to write this story. I know nothing about what it's like. How the heck am I supposed to write a story like that?" He didn't answer that question, but over and over I heard him say, "Write it. I've given you all the qualifications you need." No matter how many times I told him he had the wrong person for the job, he would come right back with "Write what I've told you to write."

O.k., o.k., so I had no choice, right? I mean, it's not like you can actually ignore things like that. So, I began to write. Not only that, but I contacted the local Choose Life branch for pamphlets or whatever I could get my hands on. (On a side note, God made this very easy for me since about two months prior, my husband was asked to serve on the board of that local Choose Life branch. Tell me that's not a God thing!) Not only did they set me up with brochures and the like, but they also put me in touch with post abortive women who now work with Choose Life.

I interviewed these women to get an idea what it was like to be in their shoes. Let me just say that no one has shoes like these women do. They are amazing people with amazing stories of God's redemption.

Then, after all that work, I decided I needed to write something lighter. I had gotten stuck after a few chapters and didn't know where to turn. So, I wrote another book. (About vampires--Yes, I'm one of those. I can't help it. I've always liked a good vampire story. It had a gospel story undertone to it with one sacrificing life for the other, just as Christ Jesus did for us.)

I finished it. I queried it to editors. I even have some request a partial, but nothing came of it. And do you know why? It was because I had written the wrong book. You may think I'm crazy at this point, but after I had my fun writing that vampire novel, I heard God speaking to me again. It was kind of like this, "So, you got that out of your system. Are you going to do the one I told you to do now?"

I sheepishly walked away from that reprimand with shoulders shrugged saying, "O.k., God."

I got back to work. All last summer, all this fall, I've been writing. About November, I finished the abortion themed book and began querying agents. Most said no. Many didn't respond. Until about two weeks ago when God and I had another conversation.

Me: Look, God, I know that this career is fraught with rejection, but this is getting a little old. I mean, I've sent out about 50 or so letters and not one even asked for a partial. If you really want me to write, if this is what I'm supposed to be doing, then I need a little encouragement. I don't even care if this agent ultimately takes my work. Just give me something. Please.

God: O.k., Jess.

Wow! An o.k.! So that week I get a letter from an agent requesting the next ten pages of my MSS. So, out it went, with a "Thank you, God." and came back two days later with a "No thanks" from the agent. But it didn't matter. I was flying high. God had heard my prayer and had answered specifically. It's funny as I look at that letter because the agent said that she wasn't accepting any new authors and that she didn't want personal growth stories. Why on earth I queried her in the first place, I have no idea, other than it was God's way of telling me I was on the right track.

Now, we are to present: Me continuing to write my next novel and every other day or so going through the Guide to Literary Agents book by Chuck Shambuchino. Two days ago, I got to the 'M's.

Enter Kelly Mortimer. I researched her and found a blog that she had written on, of all things, abortion! This whole time I've felt like I was sending these letters blind. After all, it's not like agents say, "I like YA, Middle grade and children's books, and oh, by the way, my stance on abortion is______." But that's exactly what Ms. Mortimer did. So, I queried her... yesterday... and today I got a response. She said, "I'm actually looking for lighter fare, but I'm going to give you a shot."

Yes! A shot! I'll take it. So, after obsessively going through my first three chapters and synopsis for the umteenth time, I've sent it out to her.

Now, it's waiting time. I wait on Kelly, whose turn around time is about ten weeks with a partial, and I wait on God, who's already been so faithful to me already. Hopefully soon, I'll be able to bring you good news. If not, that's o.k. He'll lead me to the right agent for my book. In the mean time, please pray.

P.S. She was the 72nd agent I queried.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Writing my short story

As promised, I am taking this blog in a different direction today. Not having finished any new books in the last two days means that I get to write about something new I've done.

After receiving numerous rejections on my novel, I decided that I need to build my publishing history by submitting short stories to magazines for possible publications. Problem-- I didn't have any completed short stories. No, all I had was one small paragraph. In my heart I knew there was some brilliance swimming around in the depths of whatever story would emerge, but do you think I had a clue what that story was? Absolutely not.

Luckily, I've begun to surround my self with writers. Some old, some young, some old with young hearts. Whatever the category, they love to write and thus, being associated gets me pumped to create a masterpiece as well.

So, I sent my single paragraph to a few of my writing friends and said, "I don't know where this is going. I need help. Give me anything: a character, a plot, a setting, a conflict." I didn't care. I could have been one sarcastic remark and I would have taken it. After a few days, a few suggestions came my way, and, by piecing them together, a story burst forth!

"YES!" I shouted in the middle of my kitchen to whatever dust bunnies were listening. (There are many since I prefer to write than clean the fuzzy little creatures.) Immediately, I got to work. Now, two weeks later, I have a full story, and, dare I say it, it's good. Really good. But I'm slightly biased to my own work.

Step 2: find a magazine. I'd been collecting the names of a few magazines that accept short stories for publication, so within minutes of completion, I buried myself in the online search of the right magazine. (The right magazine consists of one that doesn't charge for submissions.) Of my lists and lists, I found two that don't require submission fees and one of those doesn't allow you to submit online. Darn it!

Anyway, I'll have you all know that as of about five minutes ago, I've submitted to the online site, Glimmertrain and plan to send my printed story to the Paris Review. Now, I have to wait and see and hope and pray that maybe someone thinks my story is as brilliant as I do.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

I'm having trouble with this one.--Marked--PC and Kristin Cast

After much procrastination, I've begun reading PC Cast and Kristin Cast's House of Night series beginning with the first book, Marked. I don't think I'll finish the series.

If anyone knows me, they'll know that I love a good vampire story. Way back when Buffy the Vampire Slayer was on, I was a huge fan, even, dare I say it, seeing the original 1980something movie sans Sarah Michelle Gellar, which is horribly entertaining. I mean that literally with emphasis on the horrible. Anyway, I figured that the Casts' book series would be fun to read when I got around to it. After taking a hiatus from vampire novels to read anything different from the main stream for a while, I checked this one out of the library a few weeks ago and decided to give it a try.

Now, I'm writing this without having finished the book, so take this with a grain of salt if you will, but I don't think I can stomach much more. First of all, I'm half way through and though this is supposed to be a vampire novel, nothing "vampirey" has happened. See here, I am all for bending the rules when it comes to putting a new twist on things, but this novel seems more interested in making them to be witchy-type creatures than vampires. They study powers and worship goddesses. I'm sorry, but my interest gets cut very short when you bring in goddesses unless you are purposely writing a mythological story.

So far I've discovered that in the Casts' world, vampires have weird tattoos on their faces, get marked (hence the name), worship goddesses, control the elements. Sorry, but I'm an old fashioned, vampires suck blood and have superhuman strength and speed kind of girl. Vampire rules that can be bent in my book are sunlight and crosses. (See Twilight).

There's not much more to say about it since I haven't finished the book, and I will finish. Even when I hate a book, I have to finish it just to see if there is any redemptive value. Maybe I'm just too picky about archetypes, but I just can't get into anything new agey- goddess worshipping- or mediums. When I read something like that, my spirit goes, "Oh no you don't, sister! That's not the way it should be. You're telling it all wrong."

You may disagree, and that's o.k.. But I'll tell you this: I won't be reading any more of this series. that's for sure.