In honor of Halloween, here's a spooky roundup for this week's Friday Five.
The original Halloween is the first scary movie I remember watching in high school. Having seen it again recently, what struck me was how little gore is shown. The violence takes place off screen, yet this film still manages to be frightening. And of course, that music....
The Shining is one of my all time favorite creepy movies. It has so many edge-of-your-seat moments. Stephen King is a master at creating fear.
Throughout college, I had bad dreams about Freddy Krueger lurking in the stairwell of my dorm. I never even saw the whole movie, only snippets, and it still managed to frighten me for years.
This is my most recent scary book purchase. I bought it last week solely based on the amazingly creepy cover. Now I'm actually too afraid to start reading it.
This house is either being demolished or repaired, I'm not sure which. But they left the curtains hanging in the missing window. Doesn't it look like the perfect setting for a ghost story?
Haunted houses, scary books, creepy movies -- do you have any favorites to share?
To celebrate two years of blogging this month, I recently put together a new Resources for Teen Writers page. It includes:
Take a look and let me know what you think.
NaNoWriMo has a modified program for "young" writers (classified as 17 and younger.) Because of school and other commitments, you can sign up to complete a word count of your choice. You set the goal to something that will be manageable--whatever length you want! The website includes free access to downloadable workbooks (elementary, middle, or high school), pep talks for motivation and encouragement, and an online community of other writers. (I blogged about my own decision to try NaNoWriMo here.) You "win" by meeting your word count goal by the the end of the month. Any progress toward a creative goal is winning! As Napoleon Hill said:
What goals do you have for November and beyond?
Today I’m taking part in a “Listing” blog hop started by Bish Denham. If you're new to my blog, I'm the author of the award-winning young adult novel Pandemic. In Pandemic, a teenage girl struggles to survive not only a deadly influenza outbreak and its real-life consequences, but also her own personal demons.
For the list, here are my top six favorite survival books.
Top Six Favorite Survival Books
The Stand by Stephen King
One of the first survival books I ever read, The Stand has the disease angle, epic good vs. evil, and great plot twists. It left a huge impression on me.
Life As We Knew It by Susan Beth Pfeffer (ages 12+)
In this young adult novel, Miranda and her family struggle to survive after a meteor collides with the moon, creating devastating consequences on Earth and her small hometown in Pennsylvania. This is a first in a series. The Dead and the Gone is a companion novel which portrays the same disaster, but experienced by a teen boy living in New York City.
Pale Horse, Pale Rider by Katherine Anne Porter
A lyrically written short novel about falling in love and fighting for survival during the Spanish Influenza of 1918.
Ashfall by Mike Mullin (ages 12+)
In the aftermath of a supervolcano eruption, Alex struggles to survive a cross-country journey to reunite with his family. This is a well-researched, realistic disaster story, making it that much scarier. First in a series.
A Death-Struck Year by Makiia Lucier (ages 12+)
A teen girl is separated from her family in Oregon during the 1918 Spanish Flu pandemic and must decide whether or not to work with the Red Cross to help others in her community.
The Hot Zone: The Terrifying True Story of the Origins of the Ebola Virus by Richard Preston
This nonfiction book about Ebola reads like a suspenseful novel and the fact that it’s true is more frightening than many fictional scenarios.
Do you have a favorite survival story? Are you stopping by from the "Listing" blog hop? Say hello in the comments!
Five Ways Writing is Like Karate
I’ve been studying Isshinryu karate for a decade and I’ve been writing even longer than that. Over time, I’ve noticed similarities between the martial arts and the process of creating a novel. Here are five ways writing is like karate.
1. The details matter. When you’re blocking a punch, specifics like posture, stance, the angle of your arm, and its distance from your body are all important. When you kick, you need to chamber the leg, angle the foot just right. Little changes can have a large effect. This is similar to writing and word choice. The thesaurus provides several options for “walk,” but there’s a big difference between a stroll, a march, and a hike. Precise language (and grammar and structure) can elevate a piece of writing.
2. Be inspired by the best. There is often a gap between your own skill level and those who you admire. It’s a humbling experience to watch someone masterful perform a kata (a predetermined sequence of moves) that you’ve been practicing for years. The same goes for reading an excellent story. Ira Glass has a great quote (left) about not being frustrated by the gap. Use the disparity between the novel that you respect and the one you’re writing as incentive to improve.
3. Comradery helps. Karate isn’t a team sport; neither is writing. Comradery among people who study the martial arts, and those who create stories, can make the difference between a long-term commitment and a short-lived hobby. Friendships and connections formed over a common love provide moral support during “stuck” periods and these same people help celebrate the successes.
4. Deadlines combined with a goal can be motivating. There’s nothing like a tournament or testing for a promotion to get martial artists to practice more, to examine and fix even the smallest body movements. Writing more consistently tends to happen with a looming revision due date, a contest deadline, or a synopsis to complete before a conference. Then it feels like each word is examined in a new way, each sentence polished. Use deadlines to your advantage.
5. Learning is a continuous process. In the martial arts, there is a cultural aspect, a physical part, a mental component, and a philosophical piece. Memorizing one (or even seventeen) kata doesn’t necessarily make someone accomplished. Having one novel finished (or published) doesn’t make someone a master at writing. There is never a total sense of being done, even after a closing bow or typing “the end.” The opportunity for continued growth and learning is why I stay committed to both these arts.
Have you ever found similarities between two different areas of your life? Share your experience in the comments.
I've decided to try NaNoWriMo this November. (If you're unfamiliar with the concept, many writers use the month to begin a new writing project, with the goal of drafting 50,000 words.) My mom, who has provided huge moral support throughout my writing career, had two questions: Isn't 50,000 words a lot? (YES!) And: Why in the world would you want to try that?
I've thought a lot about the answer, because apparently the concept of NaNoWriMo can be controversial--some people believe that writing slower is the better approach, that quality is better than quantity. Trust me: I certainly don't expect to have a submission-ready manuscript on December 1st. I've used the slow and steady method, so why not give this a try? One thing I've learned is that public accountability works for me. The act of declaring my goal means I have to make a serious effort! Besides, there's no failing at this--even if I only hit 25K words, that would be a huge accomplishment. I think the community aspect makes this fun. And the timing is right for me, personally. I've been researching a new novel, but haven't really started writing in earnest.
Now if I can just convince my mom to come visit for the month. . . .
What's the last experiment you've tried? How did it go?
You know that uncomfortable feeling you get sometimes, like when an overly friendly stranger offers help you don’t want? Or the sense that you shouldn’t get into an elevator with someone, even though you can’t explain why?
This fear can be a asset because our subconscious picks up on details that alert us to danger. One of my favorite nonfiction books is The Gift of Fear: Survival Signals That Protect Us From Violence by Gavin de Becker. He provides many stories of survivors who, looking back, realized it was their intuition that alerted them to a dangerous situation. Intuition, he says, is “the journey from A to Z without stopping at any other letter along the way. It is knowing without knowing why.”
Yet we often try to downplay our fear. What if we’re wrong about the danger? We don’t want to look silly or seem alarmist. We don’t want to possibly insult a stranger by not getting in the elevator. We don’t want to seem rude.
But if our intuition is telling us otherwise, de Becker argues that rudeness is the last thing we should be worried about. Being afraid can save us from harm.
De Becker says, “No animal in the wild, suddenly overcome with fear, would spend any of its mental energy thinking, ‘It’s probably nothing.’ Yet we chide ourselves for even momentarily giving validity to the feeling that someone is behind us on a seemingly empty street, or that someone’s unusual behavior might be sinister. . . We, in contrast to every other creature in nature, choose not to explore--and even to ignore--survival signals.”
Have you ever experienced helpful intuition? Have you ever acted on fear and been grateful for it? Or, since it's October, what's the scariest book you've ever read? Let me know in the comments.
If you like books AND surprises, subscribe to my newsletter for a chance to win a mystery package of 3 Advanced Reading Copies (various genres).
I recently attended a conference and walked away with too many new books to possibly read, so I want to share the book love. I'll select one newsletter subscriber at random at the end of the day on Saturday (Oct 17, 2015) and announce the winner in my upcoming newsletter. If you subscribed previously -- thank you! You're already eligible. (If an international person wins, I'll offer a substitute gift due to shipping costs.)
My monthly newsletter is where I share book news, what I'm reading now, and other goodies exclusively for subscribers. Subscribe here. Good luck!
A previous version of this post appeared at YA Outside the Lines.
By Yvonne Ventresca
For today's Friday Five, I'm happy to celebrate both Laurie Wallmark's debut picture book AND her birthday! Join me in wishing Laurie the best as she shares a guest post about detours on the road to publication.
Five Detours on the Road to Publication by Laurie Wallmark
We all know the road to publication is not a straight journey from story idea to published book. Here are five detours I experienced along the way:
1. When my first novel failed to sell (for good reason, I now know), I figured it was a sign. After all, I had majored in biochemistry and information systems, not English or creative writing, so I stopped writing. Stopped, that is, until years later an idea for another novel invaded my brain and wouldn’t let go.
2. I entered this second novel into a writing competition. I was lucky, because that year’s contest was limited to middle-grade mysteries, which my finished novel just happened to be. I won, which resulted in an offer of publication. Good news, right? Well, not so much. This company went out of business before my book came out.
3. I found an agent who connected with several of my picture books, but liked one in particular and wanted to send it out on submission. Contract signed, we were good to go. Not quite. The agent hadn’t asked which publishers had already seen the manuscript. When I told her my book had been submitted already to six or seven editors, she pulled the offer. I guess I did too good a job of targeting publishers, because those were where she wanted to submit my manuscript.
4. Several years passed, and I continued to write and study my craft. When I had several picture books all shiny and ready to go, I again began an agent search. I had several requests to see more material and a few revise and resubmits. I was sure I was on my way. A year later, these agents had all either finally rejected me or stopped responding. Talk about discouraging. I was so close, but obviously not close enough. I told my critique group that I had had it. I wasn’t going to write any more. At the time I was taking a children’s literature course in the early childhood education department of my college. Because I was the only “writer” in the class, the professor asked me to read one of my pieces. The reaction of the other students was so positive it got me over my funk. Yes, I know because they liked me, they also liked my writing, but it was still nice to get some positive reinforcement for a change. I began writing again.
5. I realized I needed to concentrate on my writing and get off the trying to get published roller coaster. I decided to go for an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults at Vermont College of Fine Arts. The two year break would not only improve my craft, but I wouldn’t have to think about editors and agents for a while. Within a few months of starting school, I sold my first book, Ada Byron Lovelace and the Thinking Machine.
The take-away from these five episodes? Though it’s not easy to get published, you certainly never will if you don’t keep coming back to the journey. Enjoy the trip!
More about Ada Byron Lovelace and the Thinking Machine
ADA BYRON LOVELACE AND THE THINKING MACHINE (Creston Books, October 2015) is a picture-book biography of the world’s first computer programmer. Ada was born two hundred years ago, long before the invention of the modern electronic computer. At a time when girls and women had few options outside the home, Ada followed her dreams and studied mathematics. This book, by Laurie Wallmark and April Chu, tells the story of a remarkable woman and her work. Kirkus Reviews [starred review] describes the book as a “splendidly inspiring introduction to an unjustly overlooked woman.”
More about Laurie Wallmark
Laurie Wallmark writes exclusively for children. She can't imagine having to restrict herself to only one type of book, so she writes picture books, middle-grade novels, poetry, and nonfiction. She is currently pursuing an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults at Vermont College of Fine Arts. When not writing or studying, Laurie teaches computer science at a local community college, both on campus and in prison.
Join Laurie as she travels from blog to blog to introduce her debut picture book, Ada Byron Lovelace and the Thinking Machine. All stops are listed here. Connect with Laurie through her website, Facebook, and Twitter.
Thanks for the guest post, Laurie!
Readers, feel free to share your own unexpected life detours in the comments.
Setting is a crucial element in writing any story. In Pandemic, it’s important that the outbreak strikes in an average American town. Could something like this happen there tomorrow? The commonplace setting adds to the element of fear.
Five Helpful Setting Resources
1. The best settings are almost like separate characters in the story. This in-depth article from Writer’s Digest describes the craft of creating a setting with multiple examples:
2. If you are drawing a total blank on where to set your story, use this generator to spark an idea.
3. Do you like working with prompts? This link provides 21 setting-related questions.
4. Visit Jody Hedlund's post for five tips about writing better settings.
5. Looking for some writing exercises related to setting? Try these.
Pandemic recently won a 2015 Readers' Choice Award from Morris/Essex Health & Life Magazine based on the novel's setting. :)
Writers: Let me know in the comments if you have any favorite setting-related tips.
Readers: What makes a setting memorable to you? What are some of your favorite novel settings?
Sign up for Yvonne's newsletter for exclusive content, book news, and other occasional author goodies.