Monday, May 30, 2011

Ten Fantastical Favorites ~ Christine Brodien-Jones

Here are ten books that influenced and inspired my writing~



SKELLIG
by David Almond - A brilliant, mystical gem of a book that blends the supernatural and the ordinary when ten-year-old Michael discovers a strange being in his garage. What is Skellig? Man, bird, angel – or a beast that’s never been seen before? I loved how Michael and his friend Mina dared to carry this unearthly creature out into the light.

THE GOLDEN COMPASS by Philip Pullman – No reader can help but fall in love with Lyra, the book’s tough, sassy, street-wise heroine; drawn into a terrifying struggle, she travels with her daemon to the far North. I never wanted Lyra’s journey to end, wishing that I could have a personal daemon of my own.


THE ALCHEMYST {The Secrets of the Immortal Nicholas Flamel} by Michael Scott – A cracking adventure-fantasy mixing myth and legend with the present. Shortly after twins Sophie and Josh meet the immortal alchemyst Nicholas Flamel, an ancient book is lost, unleashing terrifying mythical creatures such as the Egyptian cat-goddess Bastet, a vegetarian vampire, Golems, and the three-faced Greek Hekate. A wild, magical ride.


THE DARK IS RISING – Eerie and atmospheric, this is the second novel in Susan Cooper’s quintet, set in rural England in the dark of winter. Life for Will turns strange and wonderful as he learns about his heritage—and his role in the battle against the rising Dark.


THE CITY OF EMBER by Jeanne DuPrau – In Ember, an underground post-apocalyptic city, supplies are failing and blackouts are frequent. Two friends, Lina and Doon, team up to decipher an ancient message and find a way to save the citizens of this dying city. Compelling, original.


A WIZARD OF EARTHSEA by Ursula K. Le Guin – An unforgettable tale of wizards, dragons and shadows. Sparrowhawk, a student of magic driven by pride and jealousy, meddles with dangerous powers, letting loose a terrible evil on the land. From the first page I was caught by the spell of this imaginary world—and the shadow-beast that hunts the reckless boy to the far corners of Earthsea.


FLOODLAND by Marcus Sedgwick – In the watery landscape of a future England, where the sea is rising, a girl named Zoe sets off to find her lost parents in this tale of courage and determination. The scenes of submerged lands are mesmerizing, as is the chaos among a raggle-taggle group seeking shelter on Eels Island.


THE GIVER by Lois Lowry - Jonas lives in a tightly-controlled futuristic society where there is no poverty, crime, illness or unemployment. As he trains to become the Receiver of Memories, he grows increasingly aware of the menacing undertones and the hypocrisy that rules his world. Chilling, intriguing, provocative.


THE TIGER RISING by Kate DiCamillo - A haunting, lyrical tale of a grieving young boy, Rob, who discovers a caged tiger and meets a feisty girl named Sistine, all on the same extraordinary day. Rob and Sistine stayed with me long after the book finished.


THE NAVIGATOR by Eoin McNamee – The strange, dazzling story of Owen, an outsider of a boy who is unexpectedly thrown out of his world and into another. When time flows backward, his family and familiar places vanish. In a terrifying battle, Owen must stop an ancient enemy, the Harsh, or else everything he knows will disappear—as if its never been. Dazzling, heart-stopping action. I loved the creepy Harsh, whose cold breath freezes humans.


Sunday, May 29, 2011

Top Ten Books that Made a Difference to Me (and still do) Jen Cervantes



When I was a girl there was no Barnes and Noble or Amazon. I think there might have been a Waldenbooks at the mall, but I didn’t have the right kind of capital to support my reading habits. So I’d spend oodles of time at the library. Here is the place I discovered new voices, new stories, new places. To condense my favs down to a few was impossible (even for this writer who thrives on impossibilities). After racking my brain, I cheated. I went to my bookshelf and made note of all the books that have stood the test of time—the books from my childhood still holding a place. And like Brian I have some early editions of these…and unlike Brian, some I am still searching for some :)

10. The Mouse and the Motorcycle by Beverly Cleary-- Because I love great humor
9. Little House on the Prairie (all of them) by Laura Ingalls Wilder-- Because I learned the value of friendship and family
8. Black Stallion by Walter Farley-- Because every book list should have a horse story
7. Where the Red Fern Grows by Wilson Rawls—Because everyone should love one book that makes them sob like a baby
6. The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis-- Because I wanted to believe in the power of real magic
5. D’Aulaire’s Greek Myths by Ingri D’Aulaire—Because some books have the ability to captivate your imagination in a timeless way
4. Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White-- Because of the impossibility of such a friendship and love
3. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl: Because I LOVE chocolate and a good underdog win!
2. Little Witch by Anna Bennett
1. Little Witch by Anna Bennett Yes, you read that duplication right-- because that’s how much I loved this classic tale! (Note: still looking for a first ed. first printing)

Saturday, May 28, 2011

THE OFFICIAL TITLE OF MY DEBUT MIDDLE GRADE NOVEL (Holly Schindler)

I'm taking a break from our monthly theme to announce the official title of my debut MG...

Since the book portrays a young girl's journey toward becoming an artist, and I just had to announce the title on a few sheets of construction paper. Nothing reminds me of the art projects of my youth quite like construction paper...Now all I need are a few pipe cleaners...




Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Pantsless in Fourth Grade

Help me out, y’all.

There was a show on PBS in the late 70s, early 80s. It featured one or two children’s books per episode. A narrator would read a passage from the book while an illustrator drew the scene being read.

What was the name of that show? *

Without a real name, I tend to think of it as the Show That Changed My Life. It was where I got all my book recommendations from. Every book they described sounded awesome (except for the ones that involved Man vs. Nature; never was a fan of CALL OF THE WILD type books). As soon as each episode ended, I would hightail it to the library and check it out.


A book I remember very vividly from this show was VERONICA GANZ by Marilyn Sachs. The narrator read from the beginning of the book, which opens with a boy named Peter Wedemeyer chanting, “Veronica Gaaanz, doesn’t wear paaaants!”

When you’re in fourth grade and someone on the TV in your classroom is talking about someone not wearing pants… Well, trust me. It is High-larious.

That alone made me want to read the book. And what I read was a revelation. It was about a bully. A GIRL bully. I had only every dealt with the boy variety.** The idea that a girl could be a bully was imponderable.

Cut me some slack. Fourth grade. The 80s. I hadn’t read BLUBBER yet. I’m more enlightened now.

But it wasn’t just this new take on bullying. This was the first book I remember reading where I really noticed the characters. How vivid they were. How real. This was a book set in a very tangible New York City. It was a book about how adversaries didn’t always have to stay adversaries. It was about why some people became bullies.

I can’t tell you how many times I re-read that book. And then I found the sequel, PETER AND VERONICA, which detailed the burgeoning friendship between the former bully and her former nemesis. (And also introduced me to Judaism. Again, slack cutting is necessary. I grew up in Central Wisconsin with nary a synagogue in sight.)


Through the miracle of eBay, I own the same editions of the books that I read all those years ago. I need those editions. The illustrations by Louis Glanzman are forever burned in my mind. Sometimes, y ears later, books get new editions/new printings and the illustrations change. And nothing against the new illustrators but it’s always those original drawings that send me back to fourth grade and make me want to read the book all over again.

Flash forward several thousand years to 2007. The publisher I work for, Flux, is re-issuing a Marilyn Sachs book from the early 80s called THE FAT GIRL. I’m the publicist assigned to the book. I get to work with the woman who introduced me to Veronica and Peter all those years ago. Do I remain professional and distant? Of course not. I go total fanboy on her (and probably scared her a little). Mainly, I got the chance to tell her how much her work meant to me. Which was pretty awesome.

Although my debut MG series is a fantasy, I dabble in realistic MD too. And in many ways, I think Sachs is my role model for that. She talked about things that, to my knowledge at the time, no one else was talking about. If there's something better to aspire to, I'm not sure what it is.

*=Seriously, if you remember the name of the show, I need to know.

**=My last name is Farrey, pronounced Fairy. I’m going to let you guess to what extent I had to deal with bullies.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Okay, Fine! I have two favorite books

By Stephanie Blake

This month on Smack Dab, we're discussing our favorite middle grade books. I already talked about my favorite books from childhood in my first post. Now that I'm a grown-up and a writer, I have a harder time choosing favorites, especially when I have become friends with so many great authors. How can you pick just one book?

Even though I have a soft spot for historical fiction, the books that really stick with me tend to be character-driven in nature. Here are two of my very favorite middle grade novels. For now.

Clementine
by Sara Pennypacker

Clementine is the sort of book I'll always strive to write. The characters in Clementine's world are wholly original. She has normal parents. Basically, she is just a little girl who can't pay attention. Only Clementine is paying attention. She's just paying attention to things most people don't notice. She has the same experiences as most 3rd graders, but the difference is that everything feels new (and funnier) when Clementine describes it.

From page 22: It is very hard to color hair with a marker, let me tell you. But I did it. I colored all of Margaret's hair chunks with Flaming Sunset, and then another really great idea popped into my head and I drew Flaming Sunset curls all over her forehead and the back of her neck so her hair would look more like mine. It looked beautiful, like a giant tattoo of tangled-up worms.

Neil Armstrong is my Uncle & Other Lies Muscle Man McGinty Told Me
by Nan Marino

Ms. Marino really knows how kids operate, and she wrote pretty much the perfect story for 8-12 year olds, both male and female. It's got a moon landing, ice cream trucks, epic kickball, and a big fat liar who just wants to be everyone's friend. Somehow, even though Tamara, the main character, is really the biggest bully on the block, you can't help but feel sorry for her and even like her by the end of the story. You know you are going to love this story from the first paragraph.

From page 1: Muscle Man McGinty is a squirrelly runt, a lying snake, and a pitiful excuse for a ten-year old. The problem is that no one on Ramble Street knows it but me. In the entire town of Massapequa Park, only I see him for what he really is. A phony.


Other favorites:
One Crazy Summer by Rita Williams-Garcia
Emma Jean Lazarus Fell out of a Tree by Laurent Tarshis
How to Steal a Dog by Barbara O'Connor
The Floating Circus by Tracie Vaughn Zimmer
Olive's Ocean by Kevin Henkes

Monday, May 23, 2011

Confessions of a Writing Snob by Dia Calhoun

Twenty-three pages into the book, I slam it shut and throw it onto the pile to be returned to the library. This has become the story of my life lately. Is it age? Diminishing attention span? Maybe. For some reason, I have grown increasingly intolerant not only of bad writing, but also of merely good writing. Good is not enough. I want the exquisite. I crave beauty—beautiful language, beautiful story-telling, and beautiful ideas—and all in one book.

This is hard to find. There are books where the language sings, but the story-telling is weak. There are books where the story enthralls, but the language is plebian. And there are books where the language and story-telling delight, but the ideas are warmed over soup. So who does it all? Four children’s authors spring to mind—Kate DiCamillo, Karen Hesse, Juliette Marillier, and sometimes Patricia McKillip. (Her language is always beautiful, but the story is not always compelling. Although in Od Magic she combines both brilliantly.) These authors have become my guiding stars.

I need the guidance. I came to writing through a love of language. In the early days the language was more important to me than the story and the idea—though I didn’t realize this at the time. I wrote my novels by plunging in and seeing what happened next. It took years before I learned the importance of idea and story. Now I play with ideas and story line before I begin a novel. I know my premise, inciting incident, crisis and climax, story arc. But nothing is set in stone—no rigid outline—ideas develop and change when I do begin writing, in response to the writing. This I think is the key: Language affects story, and story affects language. For example, finding a specific detail that makes a scene come alive can alter, enhance, or illuminate the story itself. The trick is to be alive to this interplay. That keeps the writing process fresh and spontaneous, and lets the all important sub-conscious to become my ally.

I wrote my forthcoming two middle grade novels—Eva of the Farm (Atheneum, Summer 2012) and its as yet untitled companion (Atheneum, Summer 2013) in this way. I love these books. I hope that they will cast some small light worthy of my guiding stars, and that the reader will read past the twenty-third page.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

My Shelf of Forgotten Books (A Tale of Woe)

by Trudi Trueit

When you talk with kids, it's a given they are going to want to know about your favorite titles. Mine are Jonathan Livingston Seagull, Little Women, Charlotte's Web, and Jennifer, Hecate, Macbeth, William McKinley, and Me, Elizabeth (in fifth grade, I adored this title, because I so closely identified with the heroine). I'm always delighted to share why these books captivated me, but I wasn't prepared for the boy, who raised his hand and asked, "Okay, so what is your least favorite book?"

Long after I stumbled through an answer, which I'll share in a minute, the question lingered. As a writer, it's just as important for me to know what doesn't work in a book as what does, or I am likely to step in that same quicksand (and believe me, I have). Since we've already been treated to three weeks of fantastic favorites and what makes them great, I thought I'd be a rebel this month and explore the characteristics of those books I just had to put down. What happened? Where did they go wrong? 

So here they are - the qualities that will earn a book a place on my dreaded, dusty bookshelf of forgotten titles:

Characters that don't care: I need to know what the hero wants, and I need to know fairly quickly. If I don't understand what is motivating a main character, how can I champion him or her? When the hero doesn't have a driving force (or it's muddled in the writing), it makes it tough for a reader to stick with the book, even if the plot is fast-paced. What's action without purpose?

Convoluted storytelling: I am always game for quick writing, dueling story lines, plot twists, alternating points of view, and yes, even time travel (though that darn space-time continuum can get under my skin at times). However, when there is SO much going on that I am confused about who said what to whom and why and when, or I have to flip back and forth to try to remember where the characters are and how they got there, I am likely to put the book down and go for ice cream.

Dialogue of the doomed: This is one of those 'you know 'em when you see 'em things.' Cheesy, useless, or cliched chatter will make me cringe, but my pet peeve is when ten-year-old kids are, suddenly, conversing like adults having dinner at the sushi bar. Dialogue should reveal more about the characters and advance the plot. It should be fresh, necessary, and, above all, honest.

Secret-keeping: I like a tale that unfolds layer by layer, but I get frustrated when characters have secrets I am not privy to. I am willing to travel in the dark for a few chapters, but then I start to feel like the author is stringing me along. I feel cheated. If a character has a secret, let him keep it from the other characters, not from me.
 
There are many more undesirable traits that can turn readers off: a plodding plot, inconsistent characters, a rushed ending. I am sure you have some, too. What is likely to get a book on your Least Favorites list?

Of course, I knew the boy who'd asked the original question was waiting for me to mention a specific book and, not wanting to disparage another writer's work (because no writer sets out to do these things deliberately), I told him I didn't find the telephone book particularly gripping. That got a laugh. And me off the hook!

But between us? I'm not so crazy about vampires.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

A confession, and an embarrassed appreciation

Alan Gratz here, author of the brand-spanking new Fantasy Baseball, in which I pay homage to dozens of characters from classic children's books. (Hundreds? I lost count in the rewrites.) The logical assumption then would be that I knew and loved all these characters as a boy, and that Fantasy Baseball was my way of reliving a childhood spent with my nose in books, right?

Not exactly.

It's confession time: I didn't read much as a boy. I was good in school, enjoyed the books we read for class, and was already writing stories in second grade. But read for fun? When a book wasn't assigned?

It didn't happen much.

I was too busy. I was busy building forts in the woods, or playing kickball in the street, or inventing a country with my best friend Donald next door, or attempting some new business venture in the neighborhood. Inside, I played Atari, or, later, Nintendo. I played board games. I played with action figures. I built with Legos.

But I didn't read a lot of books.

I did read a few, here and there. I remember reading The Hobbit way to early too understand what was going on. Same with Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy (most of which went screaming over my head in fourth grade). I do remember reading and loving The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster, and that's my stock response when I get asked the "What was your favorite book as a kid?" question on school visits.

But when I decided to admit here on the Smack Dab in the Middle blog about not reading much as a kid, I also decided to come clean about something else.

My favorite books when I was a kid were illustrated classics.

They were these little paperbacks published by an outfit called "Moby Books." Five inches by four inches. Kid-sized. They weren't illustrated like today's graphic novels. "Illustrated" back then meant there was a black and white line drawing every few pages. The titles promised musketeers and courageous captains, time machines and journeys to the center of the Earth.

And the covers! The covers were even better. Full-color woodcut-style prints with great white whales, pipe smoking detectives, Indians, ghosts, mad scientists. I was a red-blooded American boy. How could I resist?

Now, books with illustrations are nothing at all to be ashamed about. I still read (and love) comic books and graphic novels today. That's not the shameful part about all this.

It's that they were abridged.

Even now, I shudder at the thought. Abridged editions! Of classics! The former English teacher in me cringes. Abridged books are like Charlie and Algernon after the IQ tripling surgery wears off. Like Tony Makarios separated from his daemon. Dare I say they are the Mr. Hyde to the original's Dr. Jekyll?

But eight year old me didn't care. Eight year old me loved the stories, and had no idea the originals were better, had more depth, were art, not mere potboilers. And I wouldn't have cared if I had known. The Moby Books editions excited in me a passion for story and, perhaps more importantly, the idea that books were things wherein amazing stories were to be found.

Later in life, I sought out the original books behind the titles. (Most of them, at least. I've still never read Moby Dick, notably.) It was only then that I realized these books had so much more to offer.

But then, the whole reason I was reading as an adult was because those Moby Books had already worked their magic: they made me a book lover, no matter how late I had bloomed.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

My Favorite Book

by Lisa Graff

I was a freshman in college the year that Holes* came out, and I picked it up at the bookstore sort of on a lark. I was not supposed to be reading children's books--I was a biology major at the time, with little use (or so I thought) for children's books. But the description on the back of the book sounded pretty great, and I'd always really (semi-secretly) loved reading middle-grade novels, oftentimes more so than books written for people my age. I'd even (also semi-secretly) tried to write a few of my own. Just for fun, of course. Because I was a biology major. And pre-med.

I bought the book.

Needless to say, I was blown away. As far as I was concerned, Holes had everything. It had compelling, complicated characters and a twisty, fantastical story. It had multiple plot lines that wove together in ways I never saw coming, and an ending that (I'll admit it) made me cry. But the thing that really, truly blew me away about the book was that it had just come out that year. This seems like a ridiculous realization to me now, but at the time I almost couldn't believe it. Because all the middle-grade books I'd read and loved and re-read--Charlotte's Web, Matilda, the Baby-Sitters Club books--they'd been written years and years ago. And it had somehow never occurred to me that honest-to-goodness brilliant children's books were still be written. That this could be, like, someone's job. Someone right now. As I said, sort of an obvious observation. But I'll take my epiphanies where I can get them.

It took me about a year to realize I hated all my biology classes. And it took me a few more to realize that I really, really loved to write. But eventually I did. Eventually I figured out that what I really wanted to be doing with my everyday time was sitting at a desk, trying to write something that might one fraction as good as Holes. And now, over ten years later, I get to. It's pretty awesome.

Now here's my question for you: What was a book that changed your life plans, or made you see the world a little differently?

*Several years ago, when I was working at an editor at Farrar, Straus & Giroux, I got to meet Louis Sachar. My boss at the time, Frances Foster (who edited Holes and who is generally all-around awesome and whom I really cannot say enough fabulous things about), knew that Holes was my favorite book and that I desperately wanted to meet Louis Sachar, so she very sweetly introduced me. I think I squeaked out a "Hmphfl-gah," and then forgot how to speak. It was VERY impressive.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Choosing Favorites - Stephanie Burgis

For someone who loves books so much, I have a really hard time answering this question. Every time people ask what my favorite book is - or what it was, when I was a kid - I start stammering. "Well, see, there are so many..."

I think the real problem is that books mean so much to me, and always have, that I feel guilty choosing among them, choosing favorites. Yes, I do know how insane this sounds. If I choose The Hobbit, The Mozart Season will not be personally offended! And yet...

So here is a declaration of love to an assortment of my favorite books from childhood (you can see another sampling on my website, where I gave the question a whole page of its own):
  • The Hobbit, by J.R.R. Tolkien, which taught me that magic could be down-to-earth and very funny; that even principles that sound high-minded and beautiful can be dangerous when taken to excess; and that yes, loyalty is a virtue, but sometimes loyalty actually means standing against your friends when they're wrong. Oh, and also, I fell in love with dragons forever and ever when I read this book!

  • Anne of Green Gables, by L.M. Montgomery, which taught me that it really was okay to be a dreamy, imaginative kid even if that meant having a hard time with practical common sense. Total personal validation! :)

  • The Mozart Season, by Virginia Euwer Wolff, which I read over and over again as a kid, so thrilled to find a heroine who cared about the same kinds of things that I did, and so touched and moved by the different relationships the book explored.

  • Pride and Prejudice, by Jane Austen, which taught me that it's okay to have complicated feelings about even the people you love most. As Elizabeth says, "There are very few people whom I truly love, and even fewer whom I like" - and even her dad, one of the most sympathetic characters in the novel (and one I absolutely adore!), is, to be frank, deeply neglectful and to blame for a lot of his daughters' problems. I love the complexity of the characters in the book, along with the sparkling (and sometimes scathing) humor. Best of all, it taught me that a smart woman cares far more for her own self-respect than the opinion of the world (or even of her parents), and that romance can be hilarious.
What about you guys? What were some of your favorite books when you were a kid?

The book that let me continue writing - Bob Krech

First grade was a shocking year for me. I showed up ready to make submarines out of clay, eat jelly cookies, drink little milks, and build things out of blocks like we did in kindergarten. No one told me we were expected to read words on a big chart. When were we supposed to have been practicing that? I could recognize "Puff" and "Jane" and "Dick", but there were a lot of tough words thrown in there too, like "when" and "father" and "lost." It was a struggle.

Though first grade reading was tortuous, that summer before second grade my reading life was jumpstarted by my uncles giving me comic books. Green Lantern, Batman, Superman, that whole pantheon of superheroes led me to really wanting to read. It was fun and exciting to learn cool words like "Fortress of Solitude." And to make sense of the story you had to remember the other dull words like "when." So it all started to come together. I even began to try to draw and write my own comic books. It became my new hobby, second only to baseball.

By fourth grade I was loving reading and writing. I began writing my own novel-length stories (approximately 10 -12 pages), mostly about spies, the Civil War, and horror. Good fourth grade boy topics. I continued writing happily until sixth grade. Then I hit a wall. I was reading all these great books and stories and it seemed they all had some kind of incredible, twisty, unexpected ending. I remember in particular, The Monkey’s Paw. Wow. I couldn’t do that. My endings were not clever, twisty, and unexpected. They seemed dull and predictable. It made me feel depressed. I figured no way can I be a writer if I can't write stuff like The Monkey's Paw.

 
Then, somewhere in the middle of sixth grade good fortune put In God We Trust All Others Pay Cash by Jean Shepherd in my hands. Most people know Shepherd as the creator and narrator of the cult movie classic, A Christmas Story. Shepherd’s collection of short stories was just great, funny stuff about a kid growing up in Indiana during the 1920’s and 30’s. It was timeless. And terrific. I read Wanda Hickey’s Night of Golden Memories and Other Disasters next. So funny and so true to what it is to be a kid growing up. I could totally relate.

And then it hit me. I told stories like the ones in Shepherd's books to to my friends all the time. This kind of stuff happened to all of us. Goofy, funny, embarrassing life. I examined Shepherd’s work with a writer’s eye for the first time. There were no clever, twisty, shocking endings. It was normal stuff, but the secret was in the telling. I realized that when I was walking to school with my friends and was recounting some dumb, funny thing I heard about, I was laying it out like a story, with a beginning, a build-up, details, characterization, setting. I built an arc and delivered the punch line. It was writing, but it was oral. I could tell a story about regular stuff, I just had to tell it well and write it down.

Shepherd made it possible for me to look at myself as a writer again. He also provided me with a lot of laughs and great reading along the way.

Friday, May 13, 2011

My favorite MG book—for now, at least


At a school visit yesterday I addressed three groups of students (fourth, fifth, and sixth grades) and in each group, someone asked me what was my favorite book when I was their age. Argh. I never know what to answer. One favorite? I told them how hard it was to narrow it down to one and added that I’d better come up with an answer pretty fast, because I was supposed to write a blog post on that very topic the very next day—today, in fact.

I must have told my husband at some time that The Secret Garden was my favorite childhood book because when I retired as Midsouth Regional Advisor with the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, my friends in the chapter asked him what was my favorite, and that’s what he told them. At my last conference as RA they gave me a first American edition, first printing of The Secret Garden.


Isn't it beautiful? They looked for it for months and I don't even want to know how much it cost.
This book has everything: A strong main character, who comes across as a sourpuss but who is actually brave and tough; a strange voice wailing through a mansion at night; an exotic locale (Yorkshire is pretty exotic to someone growing up in suburban New York); mysterious echoes of Greek myth (Dickon/Pan); mysterious echoes of even more primal myth (Dickon’s mother/Earth Mother); the wonderful hidden place full of fertility and life (Freud, anyone?); a glimpse into adult love and pain; redemption; a satisfying ending.

So, yes—I’ve decided. The Secret Garden. Not just for all those reasons—although that would be enough to do it—but mostly because of what it now represents to me: the love and support of the wonderful writing community.