I’m very excited for today’s guest on the Observation Desk is the author of the picture book RACE CAR DREAMS. The boys got this one for Christmas and love it! Sharon is doing a one-day Amazon giveaway on Wednesday, so make sure to check out my Twitter (@katielcarroll) or author Facebook page on Wednesday for details on that. Welcome, Sharon!
by Sharon Chriscoe
Thanks for having me, Katie! When I think about my favorite children’s books, one simple word comes to mind:
A book that will not only hold up to reading after reading, but also generation after generation. A book that can be a treasured gift passed down through a family line or holds special memories of days gone by.
Some of my all-time favorite children’s books are: The Velveteen Rabbit, The Little Engine That Could, Corduroy, Little Bear (series) and Goodnight Moon. Each of these books has one special quality in common. They are timeless. No matter if they were read in the 1920’s or in 2017, their message is still important and needs to be shared, and loved.
Today’s market is in some ways very much the same as it has always been. Classics are still as popular as ever. Children or animals are the most common main characters. And friendship, love, perseverance, and bedtime routines are always hot topics.
However, like most other things, books are evolving. One example of how children’s books are evolving is when an author adds a twist to the story. By adding twists to their book, the author brings something fresh and new to their story and in return making it a timeless treasure that will enlighten children for decades.
Children’s book twists can take place in a classic plot, such as Mary Had A Little Glam by Tammi Sauer, or Goldilocks and The Three Dinosaurs by Mo Willems, in where both authors use a familiar fairy tale but change the plot, setting, or point of view. These books are called fractured fairy tales.
Other examples of a twist can be by portraying unusual characters, such as Lady Pancake and Sir French Toast by Josh Funk, where the main characters are yes . . . just as the title suggests, a lady pancake and a sir French toast. Or The Day The Crayons Quit by Drew Daywalt, a story told from the point of view of a box of crayons.
Theme is also an effective way to add a twist to your book. In Be A Friend by Salina Yoon, the theme is friendship and acceptance. But the twist is that Salina uses a mime to tell her story. Dennis, her main character, never speaks a word, yet the ‘reader’ hears every one.
Another example of a twist can be seen in my picture book, Race Car Dreams. The twist combines both an unusual character and its theme, where a little race car does the same bedtime rituals as a child. This enables children to see themselves in the book’s little Race Car as he prepares to settle in for a good night’s sleep. By imagining that race cars also wind down their engines with a bath, a good story, and a full tummy, children are both soothed and entertained, and drift happily off to dreamland.
So, the next time you’re looking for a new picture book idea, let your mind wander and see where the twists take you–and you might find yourself writing a timeless book of your own!
RACE CAR DREAMS blurb:
After a day at the track of zipping and zooming, a race car is tired and ready for bed. He washes his rims, fills his tummy with oil, and chooses a book that is all about speed. All toasty and warm, he drifts off to sleep, he shifts into gear . . . and dreams of the race!
About the Author:
Sharon Chriscoe may not vroom around a race track, but she does zip and zoom around in a bread truck with her husband, Ricky. Fueled with fresh bread, snacks, and writing tools, Sharon has made this her mobile office! She and her husband live in Pilot Mountain, North Carolina. They have three children and one grandchild, as well as an assortment of dogs, cats, bunnies and occasionally a groundhog. In addition to RACE CAR DREAMS, she is the author of BULLDOZER DREAMS (Running Press Kids, 2017) and FIRE TRUCK DREAMS (Running Press Kids, 2018), and THE SPARROW AND THE TREES (Arbordale Publishing, 2015). She is also a contributor to several magazines such as Highlights High Five, Highlights Hello, and The Old Farmer’s Almanac for Kids. She is a member of The Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators and is a graduate of The Institute of Children’s Literature. She is represented by Jessica Sinsheimer of the Sarah Jane Freymann Literary Agency. To learn more about Sharon, her books, and future events, visit her website: www.sharonchriscoebooks.com.
I’m shining the spotlight on LA Dragoni’s paranormal romance GHOST TOUCH. You may have seen LA here on the blog with her kidlit alter-ego Kai Strand (fellow #InkRipples founder!). Let’s give her a big welcome!
For fifteen minutes each night a portal opens in Tamara’s barn and a horde of ghosts spills into her yard. She and Dex work together to find a way to help Cal and the thousands of spirits stuck in the void to cross over. When she learns she has the ghost touch—the ability to touch the ghosts as if they were corporeal—and she accidentally helps a little boy cross, she believes it might be possible. But not all the spirits play nice and when they learn they can sip energy from her ghost touch, they become greedy putting her life at risk.
Each time Cal has to pull her from the mass of ghosts, her touch restores him more and more until he is at danger of being stuck on earth—forever, which is very enticing to Tamara the better she knows him. Will she and Dex figure out how to help the spirits cross and if they do, will she be able to let Cal go?
Tamara rubbed her hands together then held them toward the fire. The air had an extra chill to it. “Hurry up, they should be here soon.”
She’d barely finished speaking when bright light burst through the barn. Tamara spun back around. “Dex!”
She shielded her eyes with a hand searching for Dex’s familiar silhouette, but couldn’t make him out in the chaos of ghosts streaming from within the building.
“Dex!” she shouted again, leaping forward and running toward the door. A stabbing pain of cold sliced through her upper arm when she knocked against the ghost with the shovel in his hand. He stopped to stare at her with a surprised expression on his face. She pushed forward, ignoring the increasing pain as she jostled up against the ghosts.
A knot of ghosts hunkered together where she last saw Dexter. She pushed through them, her warm touch surprising enough to make them jump back. Dex lay crumpled in a quivering ball at the center of the group. Tamara kneeled beside him and clutched his shoulders.
“Dex! Are you okay?” He didn’t respond, just rocked to and fro, mumbling incoherent words. She shouted. “Dex! Can you hear me?”
His gaze finally lifted, a wary look colored with terror.
“Oh my God.” Tamara wrapped her arms around him. His body was ice cold. She pressed as much of herself against him as she could and buried her face in his hair. “I gotcha. You’ll be okay.”
Then she became aware of an ache worming through her muscles and realized hands pawed at her, clutched her, and were trying to pull her away. She raised a furious glare at the eager crowd of ghouls and snarled. “Stop! Leave us alone.”
However, hunger showed in the eyes of those who’d been dead a short enough time to still have them. Actions became more insistent and then combative. The group shoved and swayed until she worried she’d be crushed beneath them when they fell. She kept her arms wrapped around Dex, hoping to keep the spirits off him, but many simply reached through him to get to her. He shuddered violently and had grown quiet.
Each individual touch drained her of warmth and energy, yet they continued to grope at her arms and back, tug on her hair and clothing. She grew weaker and weaker until the edges of her vision dimmed and she could barely feel the boy she was trying to protect. Just before she passed out, a roar penetrated her frozen mind and she sensed more than saw the crowd spring away. But she was already too far gone and lost consciousness just as lukewarm hands gripped her upper arms.
“The writing’s terrific, the storyline compelling. Truth be told, I rushed to the end to find out who Tamara would end up with.”
-Stuart R. West
LA Dragoni isn’t too particular about who falls in love or where they fall in love. She simply considers it her job to capture the story about their love. Whether it’s paranormal, mythical, or time travel, LA will be there to divine their story for you. She lives in Central Oregon with her husband and children, but haunts ghost towns and cemeteries up and down the west, in search of the next adventure to sift through her storytelling brain. Follow LA on Facebook and Twitter. Subscribe to her mailing list and learn more about LA and her work at www.ladragoni.com
There are lots of ways to define genre in literature (see the dictionary definition of “genre” or the Wikipedia entry on “literary genre”). For our intents and purposes of today’s discussion, let me specify by saying that when I’m talking about genre, I mean as they are defined in modern publishing, not necessarily limited to genre fiction (which contains certain popular genres) but sticking to fiction.
Specifically, I want to address common misconceptions about genre. If you’ve ever done any research on genre yourself, you’ll see it can be quite contentious, so I don’t expect everyone to agree with me here. Let’s dig right in…
One key to understanding genre is to know what it’s not. I often see people refer to YA (young adult) as a genre. It’s not, no more than adult fiction is a genre. YA is a category that designates a target age range for its readers and will center around characters of that age group. That’s not to say that readers out of the target age range won’t enjoy those books (you all know I mostly read YA, and I’m in my 30s). The same goes for middle grade–it’s not a genre but an age category.
Misconception 2 – Genre Is Easy To Define
So what is a genre? So-called “popular genres” or “genre fiction” include fantasy, science fiction, horror, mystery, romance, and thriller, among others. A story in one of these genres will follow the conventions of its genre and comes with certain expectations from readers. For example, you can expect a fantasy story to include fantastical elements that don’t exist in our world. Each popular genre has its own conventions, though there certainly can be overlap.
What about literary fiction? Is that a genre in and of itself? You certainly wouldn’t call literary fiction a popular genre as it cannot be defined by the genre conventions of those popular genres. Literary fiction tends to focus on the human condition and themes rather than plot. It’s more an absence of popular genre, but in publishing, I would say it’s considered its own genre. There are still expectations from a reader about what they will get with literary fiction, and you’ll find it as a category in book stores.
Are contemporary and historical genres? There’s some debate here. They denote whether a story takes place in a historical time period or in contemporary times, but you also have to take into consideration when the book was written. A story written in the 1980s about stuff that happened in the 1980s was contemporary then, but a YA story written today about stuff that happened in the 1980s is historical. You can have a contemporary romance or a historical one, but there’s also just historical fiction that deals with a historical time period or event but with fictional elements. Historical doesn’t necessarily have elements of mystery or romance or thriller, but a reader would have certain expectations from an historical novel. Contemporary is tricky because it usually fits into one of the popular genres, and if it doesn’t, it’s probably considered literary fiction.
Complicating the issue of genres even more is sub-genres and novels that can fit into more than one genre. Paranormal is a sub-genre of fantasy that specifically includes a heavy focus on paranormal elements, often in the form of mythical or magical creatures (i.e. TWILIGHT). A fantasy story can have paranormal elements but can also be categorized as fantasy and not necessarily paranormal. What about a story set in a futuristic world with science-fiction elements that also has heavy romance elements? Is it science fiction or romance? It may be categorized as both (a science-fiction romance) or may be categorized with the more dominant one, and people may not agree on which one is more prevalent.
Misconception 3 – Literary Fiction Is More Serious Than Genre Fiction
It’s been said that literary fiction is about confronting reality while genre fiction is about escaping reality. Literary fiction is often said to deal deeper with character and uses plot as a secondary device, but I’ve read plenty of genre fiction that gets deep into character while also having a riveting plot. Writing quality of literary fiction is also often lauded as superior to genre fiction, but I think the quality of writing largely depends on who’s doing the writing and not so much on genre (read Laini Taylor’s DAUGHTER OF SMOKE AND BONE for a lyrical and beautifully written fantasy story). So while it might be true that you’re more likely to study literary fiction in school and read genre fiction on your own time (though school’s are delving into popular fiction more than ever), that doesn’t necessarily make literary fiction more serious.
In fact, as a writer of fantasy, mystery, and thrillers, I would fight you to the death (strictly in a fantastical world, of course!) to argue that genre fiction can be, and often is, as serious as literary fiction. In fact, I think genre fiction can be very effective at commenting on reality and providing a deeper understanding of our own world, but it also gives that reality a more palatable context by using the conventions of genre fiction. The lens of genre fiction can almost make it easier to comment on and gain perspective of current issues of our world.
This discussion of genre has gotten longer than I intended, so I’m going to stop with these three misconceptions. Do you think I totally missed the mark on genre? Or maybe I missed something big that you’d like to see discussed in a future post. I’d love to hear your thoughts on literary genres.
#InkRipples is a monthly meme created by Katie L. Carroll, Mary Waibel, and Kai Strand. We pick a topic (February is all about genres), 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.
I know I’ve been quiet on the blog lately. In part because I’ve been making it a priority to be noisy in real life and the blog has taken a backseat to that. But it’s not just that.
This blog–my Observation Desk–has always served as a safe space for me to share my thoughts. I’ve pointedly strayed away from highly charged political and controversial topics. Not necessarily censoring myself, but being careful in order to keep this a safe space…for myself and for those of you who actively participate here (and I’m incredibly thankful for all of you who take time out of your day to read my posts). It’s always served as one of my favorite creative spaces, and I’ve protected it to keep it positive because that’s what I’ve needed from it. I’ve needed to feel safe here in order to create.
I’ve seen how people (particularly woman and POC) can be harassed and attacked on the Internet for their thoughts and beliefs. In the past, I’ve protected myself and this space from that. I’ve had that privilege when others haven’t. I recognize that.
But right now, in the U.S.’s current political climate, everything has become political. Literature and art have always been political, but now the very places we shop, the causes we choose to support and donate to, whether or not we speak up..it’s all political. This is new to me, though I know this idea of life in general not being political is not new to others.
So I’m confronting my own decision to keep this a “safe” space. I’m confronting and recognizing my own privilege in ways I never have before. I’m listening and learning from people who do not have the luxury of having a privilege like mine, and I’m believing what they say. I’m challenging the lawmakers from my state and beyond to stand up for what is right by making phone calls, writing emails, standing with others, and voicing my beliefs in a way I never have before.
My perspective has shifted so much in the last year. I see the world in a different, often scarier, light than I used to. But this world that feels so new to me is an old world for many who have been fighting oppression and racism for their whole lives. I don’t always know the best way to act or react, and I have to fight my default to stay quiet and think that this isn’t my fight and to wonder what my voice can possibly bring to the table. I’m not always successful in my attempts, but I’m learning and listening, always listening.
I’m not saying any of this because I’m turning this blog into something new or different. Having a creative space and keeping my sanity enough to be able to create stories for kids is important. It’s always been a political act (as I said earlier, I believe all literature is), and the urgency of its importance is even more evident to me now.
The Observation Desk will still be a place to share creative thoughts and works, but I couldn’t ignore this part of me that was staying quiet here (I get a lot more political on Twitter @KatieLCarroll if you’re interested in checking that out). It felt dishonest, like I was keeping a secret, even though I wasn’t necessarily keeping it a secret (if you know me in real life, my political thoughts are certainly not a secret). So I may delve into that part of myself here more often.
With all that is going on in this country and around the world, it’s still going to be a big year for me personally and as an author. I’ll be sharing more about both of those aspects of my life here on this blog. I’ll continue to bring you guest posts, lots more #InkRipples each month, and pictures of the boys. This blog will continue to focus on creativity and books, no doubt about that. But now you know there’s been a lot more on my mind lately, and I’m happy to share that part of me with you (even though it feels like a messy, unfinished part of myself).
So stay tuned to learn more about my creative works-in-progress and the work-in-progress that is Katie as well!