I’ve been feeling particularly unproductive this year, in part because I haven’t been doing much drafting. It’s my favorite part of the writing process and the one that creatively feels the most fulfilling. I feel whole when I’m in the midst of a draft and able to lose myself in the process of adding words to the page.
The other part of feeling unproductive is being pregnant. With the bad colds all winter long, the morning sickness for the first half of the pregnancy, and the fatigue and swelling that’s come with the last trimester and warmer weather, I haven’t exactly been racking up the work hours. I get that my limits are temporary and necessary right now, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t frustrating as well.
So I’m trying to recognize other ways I’ve been productive this year. The obvious one is I’m growing a baby (no small feat!). I’m also bringing a book baby into the world in October with my middle grade adventure PIRATE ISLAND. I’ts the first time I’m self-publishing a book, and I’ve learned a ton about the process this year, much of which I’ve enjoyed…even when it’s slightly frustrating and takes more time than I had hoped.
Then there are those other little guys (The Boy and The Prince) who demand so much of my time. The Boy flourished in kindergarten and is on his way to being a big first-grader. The Prince is learning and growing so much and will start preschool in the fall. I’ve been doing my best to spend as much quality time with those two before baby (a.k.a. The Gentleman) comes.
I’ve been working on a picture book, doing some freelance work, and working on other small projects as well. Then there’s the veggie garden (we picked our first peas of the season the other day), prepping for baby (six months worth of laundry washed, sorted, and folded and new mini-van purchased), blogging, and all those other things that require time and attention (grocery shopping and dinner, I’m looking at you!).
So, yeah, I think it’s fair to say that I’ve been as productive as I can be with the time and energy I have right now. And it’s important to recognize that (even blog about it) to validate that I’m doing stuff…even if it’s not all the stuff!
What kind of productive have you been lately?
When I first found out I was expected to write my own blurb for ELIXIR BOUND, I was kind of terrified. The blurb is one of the most important selling tools of a book, probably only second to the cover. If a cover and title draw in a reader, chances are the next thing they’ll look at is the blurb in order to decide if they’re going to read the book.
What exactly is a book blurb? It’s what some call jacket copy, and it’s the brief description of the story you find on the back or inner jacket of a print book and in the book’s listing online. Some big publishing companies will write the blurbs for their authors (though they may take phrases from the author’s or agent’s original pitch of the book), but small presses often look to authors to provide one. And in self-publishing, of course, it’s up to the author to write a blurb or hire someone to do it for them.
Here’s what I came up with for ELIXIR BOUND.
Katora Kase is next in line to take over as guardian to a secret and powerful healing Elixir. Now she must journey into the wilds of Faway Forest to find the ingredient that gives the Elixir its potency. Even though she has her sister and brother, an old family friend, and the handsome son of a mapmaker as companions, she feels alone. It is her decision alone whether or not to bind herself to the Elixir to serve and protect it until it chooses a new guardian. The forest hosts many dangers, including wicked beings that will stop at nothing to gain power, but the biggest danger Katora may face is whether or not to open up her heart to love.”
I have actually started writing blurbs for stories as part of my drafting process. Sometimes I do this right at the beginning of the first draft and other times I’ll use the blurb writing as a tool to get me unstuck when I reach a tricky part of the drafting process that has me stalled.
I don’t generally outline a story before I write it (I’m what’s referred to as a panster vs. a plotter, who will outline the entire story before starting to write it), though I do usually know what the end point of the plot will be and at least some of the main plot points along the way (I do this all in my head in the beginning). I’ve found the blurb is a good tool to help me shape the story as I move along with it, and it also serves as a good reminder of what my original intentions were.
A blurb is not as rigid or detailed as an outline, so there’s plenty of room to move and change the story. It generally doesn’t take too long for me to whip up a blurb these days, so it’s not something that requires a huge time investment. That way I don’t feel like I’ve wasted time if I end up throwing the whole blurb out at the end and starting over once the draft is finished. As opposed to having a whole outline already written out and then having the book take an unexpected turn and having to rethink the entire outline. (I’m not disparaging plotters…I think we all work in the best way we can and every writer needs to do what works for them.)
Since writing that first blurb for ELIXIR BOUND, I’ve had a lot more practice with them, both for my own stories and as an editor for other writers’ stories. If I could do it all over again, I’d probably make some changes to the ELIXIR BOUND blurb, but it’s sufficient enough to leave as is…for now anyway!
Recently I revealed the cover and blurb for PIRATE ISLAND. I decided to do a tagline teaser at the beginning before launching into the summary part of the blurb. One difference between writing a blurb for a YA or adult book vs. one for a middle grade book is that many middle grade books are bought by parents for their kids, whereas YA and adult books are primarily bought by the person who is going to read it. So that’s an extra layer of audience that needs to be kept in mind. I’m hoping young readers and their parents will be drawn in to the story based on what I came up with for PIRATE ISLAND:
A thrice cursed island, a legendary pirate treasure, and one not-so-brave boy. What could possibly go wrong?
For centuries, the whereabouts of Captain William Kidd’s lost pirate treasure has remained a mystery. When Billy’s best friend, Andy, proposes they look for it on nearby Pirate Island, Billy thinks it’s just another one of their crazy adventures. It’s usually Billy who ends up in trouble as a result, but he goes along for the ride…like always. The more he delves into the life and death of Kidd, the more he thinks the treasure is real and that it might be buried on the small island in Long Island Sound. Billy—nope, call him William—becomes obsessed with the captain of the same first name. He even believes he’s possessed by Kidd’s restless soul. Now he and the spirit of a long-dead pirate are leading the crazy adventure on Pirate Island. And what they find is far bigger than the treasure they imagined.”
A lot of blurb writing is about finding the right balance between giving enough specifics to entice a reader in while also not giving away too much of story to spoil it. You also want to make the writing interesting and not read like a plot summary (because that’s boring). It’s tempting to be all movie trailer dramatic in a blurb and be too generic. I find phrases like “must save the world” or “will the star-crossed lovers ever be together?” to be far less effective than something more specific to the actual story. Hooky sound-bites are great, so long as they offer something unique to the story.
What kinds of blurbs have your read that made you just have to pick up a book?
#InkRipples is a monthly meme created by Katie L. Carroll, Mary Waibel, and Kai Strand. We pick a topic (June is all about book blurbs), drop a ripple in the inkwell (i.e. write about it on our blogs), and see where the conversation goes. We’d love to have you join in the conversation on your own blogs or on your social media page. Full details and each month’s topic can be found on my #InkRipples page.
Writer friend and big supporter of the kidlit community Beverly Stowe McClure is here to share the cover for her upcoming middle grade novel PRINCESS BREEZE, a sequel to JUST BREEZE. Let’s give Beverly a big welcome!
PRINCESS BREEZE blurb:
For months, Breeze Brannigan has heard nothing from Cam, the prince she met at school, who disappeared one night, without telling her goodbye. On the night she graduates from middle school, however, he contacts her and invites her to visit Isla del Fuego, his home. Who could refuse such an invitation?
Breeze along with her whole family and best friends, Amy and Allison, soon sail to the island, where she and Cam renew their friendship. But danger lurks; a legend comes to life; and Breeze finds herself in the middle of a battle that can have one winner.
Most of the time, you’ll find Award-Winning Author Beverly Stowe McClure at her computer, typing stories young voices whisper in her ears. When she’s not writing, she’s snapping pictures of wildlife, flowers, and clouds. She’s affectionately known as the “Bug Lady.” She’s not telling why. To relax she plays the piano. Her fur babies don’t appreciate good music and hide when she tickles the ivories.
Beverly is a member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. She also teaches a women’s Sunday school class at her church.
Find more about Beverly and her books on her website.
Okay, now for the spring part. I’m inclined to say it’s been a weird spring, given that we had snow early on in the season and 90 degree weather last week. But when I think about it, that’s pretty typical for New England.
Some highlights of spring have included The Boy having a his artwork in the citywide show (a fire truck drawing of course!), riding on Thomas the Tank Engine, lots of park time, the New England SCBWI conference (I’ll be blogging some highlights soon), and moving into a room together and getting bunk beds (in preparation for The Gentleman’s arrival).
What have you all been up to this spring?
Last week I touched on why fairy tales make for such good fodder for story ideas. And as promised, here are some of my favorite YA and MG novels that drew inspiration from fairy tales and myths (I’ve included myths here because they are also great sources of inspiration for similar reasons that fairy tales are…and I happen to have some great examples!) with quotes from the authors to give you even further insight into their ideas.
CRUEL BEAUTY by Rosamund Hodge
“A good fairy tale retelling taps into that sense of story-behind-story. It feels inevitable. You read it and you think, Yes, obviously, this is what happened. This is what it means. Writing a fairy tale retelling feels like discovery, not invention. Why did I combine Beauty and the Beast with Bluebeard? Because I was thinking about those stories one day and I realized, Beauty married the Beast in order to kill him. She’s afraid she will die like his previous wives. That’s what happened. How else could it be?” ~Rosamund Hodge (from an interview on Epic Reads)
ASH by Malinda Lo
“Ash has gotten a lot of attention because it is a lesbian retelling of Cinderella. But my first draft had nothing gay about it–Ash, the main character, fell in love with the prince…. After I got some feedback from a friend, I realized that Ash was actually much more interested in one of the female characters, the huntress. That realization was startling to me; I had written all of that into the story without even consciously knowing it.” ~Malinda Lo (from an interview on Cynsations)
THE LIGHTNING THIEF by Rick Riordan
“My son Haley asked me to tell him some bedtime stories about the Greek gods and heroes…. I remembered a creative writing project I used to do with my sixth graders — I would let them create their own demigod hero, the son or daughter of any god they wanted, and have them describe a Greek-style quest for that hero. Off the top of my head, I made up Percy Jackson and told Haley all about his quest to recover Zeus’ lightning bolt in modern day America.” ~Rick Riordan (from the author’s website FAQ)
BEAUTY (and ROSE DAUGHTER) by Robin McKinley
“Beauty and the Beast has been my favourite fairy-tale since I was about six; I still have the book I first read it in. When I wrote Beauty, I sat down, as I thought, to write a short story, and found I had more to say than I expected…. Beauty and the Beast is still my favourite fairy-tale…it was the only fairy-tale around that didn’t have the heroine waiting limply to be rescued by the hero…. I wrote Rose Daughter, as I say, in a six-month hurtle. And in hindsight I realize what fueled the hurtle, why, having tapped into a new lode of Beauty and the Beast in my mind and heart and bloodstream, the story shaped itself and shot out onto the page as it did.” ~Robin McKinley (from an essay on author’s website)
ELLA ENCHANTED by Gail Carson Levine
“I wrote [Ella Enchanted] because I love fairy tales and I’d just read Beauty by Robin McKinley, which I admired enormously…. I was starting a new writing class and needed an idea, so I thought maybe I could expand a fairy tale too. “Cinderella” is such an important tale, it’s the first one I thought of. But when I considered it, I realized I didn’t like Cinderella or understand her. She’s so disgustingly good! And why does she take orders from her horrible stepmother and stepsisters?” ~Gail Carson Levine (from the author’s website)
ICE by Sarah Beth Durst
“I was initially inspired by a picture book of the Norwegian folktale “East of the Sun and West of the Moon” illustrated by P.J. Lynch. Specifically, there’s one illustration in there of the “lassie” where she has her hand on her hip and she’s wearing this you-won’t-stop-me expression. As soon as I saw that illustration, I knew I wanted to write about that kind of girl–a fearless girl who won’t be stopped.” ~Sarah Beth Durst (from an interview on YA Book Queen)
THE HUNGER GAMES by Suzanne Collins
“[The Hunger Games is] very much based on the myth of Theseus and the Minotaur, which I read when I was eight years old. I was a huge fan of Greek and Roman mythology. As punishment for displeasing Crete, Athens periodically had to send seven youths and seven maidens to Crete, where they were thrown into the labyrinth and devoured by the Minotaur, which is a monster that’s half man and half bull. Even when I was a little kid, the story took my breath away, because it was so cruel, and Crete was so ruthless.” ~Suzanne Collins (from an interview with the School Library Journal)
QUEST OF THE HART by Mary Waibel
“Quest of the Hart…the first book in the Princess of Valendria series, is a reverse Sleeping Beauty. This story all started when a friend suggested I write a book where the girly-girl saves the guy. While thinking about how to adapt this idea, I kept thinking of the princess in the tower needing rescue, and Sleeping Beauty popped into my mind. I pulled out my DVD, sat down with pen and paper, and jotted down the sequence of how things happened in the Disney version. Armed with a plan, I started working on my own version, and Quest of the Hart was born.” ~Mary Waibel (from an email from the author)
CINDER by Marissa Meyer
“I entered a writing contest [and chose two prompts]: Set the story in the future and include a fairy-tale character. My contest entry was a sci-fi version of “Puss in Boots” and I had so much fun writing it that I thought I would try to do an entire series of science-fiction fairy tales!… So I started to brainstorm what futuristic twists I could give to some of my favorite fairy tales. A couple months later I was drifting off to sleep when the lightning bolt struck: Cinderella… as a cyborg! My head instantly filled with all sorts of ideas and I had to crawl out of bed and start taking notes.” ~Marissa Meyer (from the author’s website FAQ)
ENTWINED by Heather Dixon
Okay, now it’s your turn to share your favorite retellings (and feel free to branch out from books and include other media)!
#InkRipples is a monthly meme created by Katie L. Carroll, Mary Waibel, and Kai Strand. We pick a topic (May is about fairy tales), drop a ripple in the inkwell (i.e. write about it on our blogs), and see where the conversation goes. We’d love to have you join in the conversation on your own blogs or on your social media page. Full details and each month’s topic can be found on my #InkRipples page.