Thursday, September 24, 2015

INTERVIEW WITH GREGORY FUNARO, AUTHOR OF ALISTAIR GRIM'S ODDITORIUM



Alistair Grim's Odditorium (Odditorium, #1)  
I was delighted to get my hands on a copy of ALISTAIR GRIM'S ODDITORIUM by Gregory Funaro. What a truly imaginative adventure, from start to finish. I was equally as delighted to talk to the author...
1.    



 I I  I love to hear about an author’s inspiration. Where did the idea for ALISTAIR GRIM’S ODDITORIUM come from?

The inspiration for ODDITORIUM came from the birth of my daughter—but I didn’t see it as a children’s book at first. In the original premise, Nigel (Mr. Grim’s right hand man) was going to be the focus of a story about Frankenstein’s monster being reunited with his long lost daughter. That idea rolled around in my head until the following summer, and by the time I started ODDITORIUM, the monster’s daughter had somehow become Grubb and the focus was on his journey with Alistair Grim. Nigel and his daughter’s story still exists in the book, but it’s one of the subplots.

2.      What’s your writing process? Plotter or pantser?

Funny, I had never heard of the term “pantser” until fairly recently. I think I’m a combination of both. I give myself a general idea of where the story needs to go, but at the same time give myself plenty of room to make things up as I go along.

3.      How do you write a series—all at once, then divide it up? Or do you finish one, start another? How do you pace it? Do you ever feel you need to remind readers what happened in book one as you write book two?

I originally envisioned the series as a trilogy, so I had a pretty clear idea of what needed to happen in each book. However, in the first draft of ODDITORIUM, I crammed in too much toward the end. Fortunately, I had a great editorial team at Disney-Hyperion who really helped me cut and postpone major plot points until the next installment. The pacing in the second book was challenging at times because, yes, the reader needs to be reminded of why things are the way they are. Keeping the voice and the characters’ personalities consistent, as well as making sure there are no plot holes, offer certain challenges, too.

4.      What’s your best piece of advice for penning a series?

Have an idea, even a vague one, of what you want to happen at the beginning and the end. Everything then in the middle can be up for grabs, as long as you keep heading in the right direction. Most important, I think, is to write each book as a complete work in and of itself, while at the same time hinting that there is more to come.

5.      When you began to envision the Odditorium, was it a place you would choose to spend your own childhood?

Probably not. Grubb is much braver and more resourceful than I ever was.

6.      I love the saying early in the book: “A blunder in the gloom leads a lad to daylight or to doom.” Do you find yourself “blundering” about—writing early drafts—at night? If not, how do you work writing into your daily schedule?

Given that I am also a full-time professor and father, I write when I can—usually beginning at 3:30-4am until my daughter wakes for school, and then picking up bits here and there during the day. My goal is to write one thousand words before she goes to bed, but lately I’ve been falling short of that.

7.      I found Grubb to be an engaging character. How much of yourself do you put in your characters? Have you ever put a person from your own life into one of your books?

I think every character that I write is a product of my experience, real-life or imagined, but I’ve never purposefully modeled a character after myself or anyone else. However, I suppose I see bits of me in Mr. Grim and Nigel. Maybe also Cleona and Lorcan Dalach from Book 2.

8.      The language and descriptions are so right-on for the middle grade set. How do you connect with the readership in order to stay relevant?

I just write stories that I would have liked to read as a middle grader. It never ceases to amaze me how bright and insightful middle graders are, so I am conscious of keeping the language both accessible and challenging.

9.      What can we expect to be reading from you next?

Book 2 in the series, ALISTAIR GRIM’S ODD AQUATICUM, comes out in January of 2016! Needless to say, I’ll be on pins and needles until then…


 Greg Fuanro can currently be found teaching drama at East Carolina University and directing a play by Lynn Nottage called Las Meninas. According to Funaro, "The play takes place in the court of Louis XIV, and is about an illicit love affair between Queen Marie Therese and her African servant, Nabo Sensugali--a dwarf from Dahomey. Brilliantly written, funny, moving and downright surreal at times, the play has been a joy to work on" He can also be reached at http://www.gregoryfunaro.com/

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Endings and Beginnings

I’ve never been a writer who can write to discover who my characters are and where my story is going. I do a lot of noodling when I get an idea. I meditate, come up with scene lists, think about what my characters want and what they need. I do whatever research I need to do. I wait for my ending to come to me.

Often I get impatient. I want to START already. But the one time I did that – start already – without knowing my ending, I just flailed around and created a mess.

But if I stick with my process—my noodling and my lists and my meditations—eventually an opening scene comes to me. And then a closing scene. I almost never know what’s going to happen between those two scenes. But once I know my final wrap-up scene, I can discover how to get there. Then I’m ready to begin.

I’m open to changing the ending, but I almost never do. When I was researching and thinking about MICHAEL AT THE INVASION OF FRANCE, I realized that Michael would choose to stay in France to continue working with the French Resistance, helping American airmen who crash landed evade the Nazis. While I was writing, I started to worry about Michael and my readers. Could I leave Michael in limbo? Why didn’t I just bring him to England with one of the pilots he saved?  Hadn’t he earned that?

I tried very hard to make that new, safer ending work, but it didn’t. Michael, who finds his courage and his self-confidence during the course of the novel, would never abandon France for safety in England no matter how much I might want him to. And so I went back to my original vision. Adults sometimes have a problem with that. But kids understand. That’s who Michael is. He couldn’t do anything else.

I’m working on a new idea now. I’m spending a lot of time with my main character and his friends. I’m meditating. I’m noodling. I’m making scene lists. Over the weekend the final scene came to me and now I can start already.

I know my ending, and so I can begin.


Saturday, September 19, 2015

Endings (September Theme) by Kristin Levine

Endings.

I think endings are one of the main differences between books and real life.  When writing a book, you get to decide, "This is the point where you know everything you need to know to understand these characters and this story."

But in real life, you never really reach that point.  Sure, you may break up with a lover or end things with a friend.  You might even never see them again.  But years later they'll pop up on Facebook.  Or you'll hear their favorite song, and you'll discover you never really listened to the lyrics before, and they cause you to see this person and your time with them in a different way.  You'll realize your story wasn't really over.

I love this about book endings.  It makes them so final.  So concrete.  So hopeful, that we can all, eventually, come to some place of true understanding.

It also makes them really hard to write.  Because the best book endings hint at the real life conflict.  You know what you need to know, but you also believe that these characters will go on, will continue to grow and change.  And as a reader you are left with the bittersweet wish that you could be there to see that too.  Even though it's over.

Endings.

Friday, September 18, 2015

What It All Means (September theme) by Claudia Mills

I already know how your personal story is going to end. I know how mine is going to end, too.

Spoiler alert: we're all going to die.

This may be why, when it comes to endings, I'm less interested in what happens than I am in what it all means. Why did the author choose this particular stretch of experience in the life of one particular fictional character to enclose between the covers of a book? Unless the main character does die within the time frame of the story, lots more stuff is going to happen to him or her later on. So why end the story here? Surely the reason has to do less with plot than with theme.

Do Rhett and Scarlett get back together or not? Even on the last page of the novel, Scarlett thinks she'll win him back at some near or distant future time, and maybe she can and maybe she can't. But if she won him back at the end of this book, it wouldn't be called Gone with the Wind.

So what I read for is not to see how the events of the story play themselves out, but to see what the character or reader learns along the way, what central truth about the human experience is revealed in the all-important epiphany moment. That's when I get tears in my eyes: when I reach that achingly wonderful moment when the main character finally gets it.

No author is better at delivering fabulous epiphany moments than the incomparable Katherine Paterson. Here are two of my favorites. (Note: Paterson also delivers her stunning epiphany on the very last, or next to last, page, something I can never quite manage to do.)

Lyddie opens with a great first line: "The bear had been their undoing, though at the time they had all laughed."After scaring off a literal bear intruder into their Vermont cabin, Lyddie is determined to save herself and her younger siblings from the bears of debt, poverty, and her mother's inner demons. But at the end of the book she realizes that the bear she needs to stare down is not what she had thought it to be: "The bear that she had thought all these years was outside herself, but now, truly, knew was in her own narrow spirit. She would stare down all the bears!"

The Great Gilly Hopkins closes with an epiphany moment that changed my own life, as Gilly talks on the phone to her foster mother Trotter, after she has thrown away her best chance at happiness by pursuing an empty dream. Trotter tells Gilly that "life ain't supposed to be nothing, 'cept maybe tough." Gilly asks her, "If life is so bad, how come you're so happy?" Trotter replies, "Did I say bad? I said it was tough."

Yes, yes, yes!

So, as I write my own endings, I care first and foremost what that epiphany take-away will be, even if I may not discover it myself until my character finds it for me. Epiphanies are the reason I read. They are also the reason I write.



Thursday, September 17, 2015

Trust Fall (Endings -- Monthly Theme -- Sarah Dooley)

There's a crossroad I come to when writing, about a third of the way through each first draft. It happens every time, but somehow it always catches me by surprise. It's that point when my plan for the book -- the plan I've had in mind the whole time, the plan I've trusted to get me this far, the plan I thought all my foreshadowing and hint-dropping was leading up to -- gets thrown out the window. And in its place lies the rest of the unwritten novel, blank and lost in fog, swirling with uncertainty -- and promise.

That's the point when I have to ask myself: who is writing this book, me or this character I thought was mine?

Certainly, I am in control of plenty when it comes to writing. When I write. Whether I write. What and who and where I choose to write about. But there is this wonderful rush of story that takes over when the timing is just right, and I get swept up in this new adventure that doesn't feel like it's of my own choosing.

I do have a choice: do I stick to my notes, my plans, all the things I thought this book was leading up to?

Or do I write just a little way down the new path? Just to see what's around the next bend? After all, if I don't like it, I can always turn around, retrace my steps back to the path I've marked, continue on my original course.

The paths spill ahead through the pages, taking me past landmarks that start to seem familiar. A touch of character development that wormed its way into Chapter Three suddenly makes sense in Chapter Seventeen. A setting I spent too many paragraphs on, just for the sheer joy of walking around in it, suddenly comes back into play, already designed and waiting for this scene I didn't know was coming.

Who is writing this book? Is it me? Or is it the writer I can be, the one who sneaks out when I turn off my worries and let the writing take over?

It's a question I love getting to ask again and again.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Endings! by Bob Krech

A few thoughts about endings:

1. I personally love endings that are conclusive and I am pretty sure after reading it that I know what happened. So, yes to Breaking Bad and no to The Soprano's endings. Love the ending of the book, City of Thieves, which was written for adults, but would make a great YA. It ties the ending back to the beginning, and I am a total sucker for that even when I see it coming.

2. When I write, I sometimes know the ending in advance and sometimes don't. Even when I think I know it in advance, sometimes it gets changed up and I have to go with the flow. If I don't know it in advance, I have to trust the process and hope that the characters lead me there. When writers tell other people about characters leading you somewhere, we usually get some pretty weird looks, right?

3. I love ending a book. I mean, I love to finish. I like the process too, but it feels so good to hit send or put that big envelope in the mail. I just finished a six book series for teachers and it was a euphoric moment to see the postal clerk take that last package and toss it in the big outgoing bin.

4. Endings can be gradual, and you are lead there, and the journey is great, you see what's coming, but you can't wait to get there. Abrupt endings are very cool too. I love the element of surprise and the way that ending brings you up short and makes you go back and reconsider everything you read up to that point to see if it makes sense and how you couldn't have seen it coming.

5. My wife loves an epilogue. She wants one for every book and movie. I think that's true for most of us. Once we invest in characters, it is very fun to speculate about what happens to them after this chapter of their lives. There's something really engaging about that. As a writer, sometimes I've had very natural epilogues emerge, but other times I had no real interest in writing about what came next, even though I love all my characters.


Monday, September 14, 2015

BRAVE ENOUGH TO NOT FINISH - September Theme by Tamera Wissinger

Oh, a happy ending, a promising ending, or even a sad but satisfying ending. As a writer it’s one of the most important parts of my job – ending well is the payoff for staying with a story. Yet I have many stories that I've begun, but that are still without endings (or proper endings) because I’ve abandoned them. The reasons for not finishing vary, but most common are that they weren't super ideas to begin with, or something else more interesting has captured my attention. Whichever way it happens, if I'm not engaged or the writing feels like a burden, I acknowledge it and accept that it's time to turn my energy elsewhere. Most of the time it’s with a mixture of sorrow and relief that I admit: This one's probably not going to make it.

Just as it takes fortitude to see some projects through, I believe it takes a certain level of bravery to not finish others. After all, isn’t part of the writer’s job to discern what is viable and what is not? To me, the choice to not finish is a different kind of ending – one played out in real life vs. on the page. Even though they are over, I carry with me the lessons I've learned from unfinished projects. And in giving up on a story that's not working, the pathway ahead opens to what is new and possible; a pathway that, this time, may lead clear to The End.  

Have you ever been brave and made the decision to not finish something? If so, I hope the choice has led you to new ways forward to your own satisfying endings.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

BOOK HIGHLIGHT: CHICKADEES, BUMBELBEEZ, PUSSY-WILLOW TREES AND TWO-AND-A-HALF - JEFFREY POLITSKY



Chickadees, Bumbelbeez, Pussy-Willow Trees and Two-And-A-Half, by Jeffrey Politsky, is a children’s book of adventure. It is recommended for ages 4-9.

Kids who still have their parents read to them really like the book, as do kids who are independent readers,” says Dr. Politsky. “The reviews of parents and children who have read the book are very favorable: adults really like the message and the children just love the story. I hope many more children will get to read it.”

Synopsis:

Children love to explore; it’s intuitive. And they tend to struggle when asked to confine their activities and behaviors to our adult-imposed rules and paths. Chickadees, Bumbelbeez, Pussy-Willow Trees and Two-And-A-Half is a vibrantly and exceptionally well-illustrated adventure book meant to inspire children to follow their urges to explore and to appreciate diversity. The book starts off when “One day a little brown monkey with dazzling olive green eyes, a friendly smile, and a long curly tail asked his father if there was more to the life than just hanging around with other monkeys and eating bananas.” Before long he meets a lovely grey cat and a majestic blue pelican each on their own quests. Together, they explore a foreign island and when their journey takes them into a private swath of land, they befriend a local dog who takes them further than they ever imagined.

Chickadees, Bumbelbeez, Pussy-Willow Trees and Two-And-A-Half emphasizes several significant values, which help us subsist and ultimately thrive: learning through independent exploration, the need for friendship, the importance of respect and tolerance for other cultures, languages, and lifestyle diversity, along with a healthy understanding of the powers of mother nature. 

About the Author:

Dr. Jeffrey Politsky grew up in Toronto, Canada. He obtained undergraduate and graduate degrees at the University of Toronto and his medical degree at the University of Western Ontario before moving to Vancouver for his residency training in Neurology. He moved to Boston in the late 1990’s to complete his epilepsy fellowship at Massachusetts General Hospital and has lived in the United States ever since. Today, Dr. and Mrs. Politsky live in New Jersey with their two children and two giant schnauzers. While he has written numerous articles and chapters related to the neurologic sciences, Chickadees, Bumbelbeez, Pussy-Willow Trees and Two-And-A-Half is Dr. Politsky’s first serious non-academic venture.

Dr. Politsky began writing Chickadees, Bumbelbeez, Pussy-Willow Trees and Two-And-A-Half on Formantera, one of the Balearic Islands in the western Mediterranean Sea off of the east coast of Spain.

“As I began pondering what makes free-form travel so interesting, I decided to try and create a story that would be appealing to youngsters. All of my back-packing adventures, like so many other travelers, had common themes: selecting a location, landing in a foreign place and feeling very foreign, attempting to understand the culture and fit in, survival, discovery, problem solving, raw happiness. I incorporated several of my own experiences in the text,” says Dr. Politsky. “I decided to weave into the story the linguistic nuances that my grandfather used when he would joke with my brother and me when we were youngsters - in essence we would ask him a question and he would answer using neologisms and in a manner that made absolutely no sense at all and then start laughing in a jolly fashion, quite amused with himself. I cherish my memory of my grandfather. His good nature and terminology stuck, much of it is incorporated in the book. In fact, some of his favorite expressions make up the book’s title.”

Dr. Politsky’s grandfather died in 1989 of complications related to multi-infarct dementia.

Tony Santiago illustrated the book with Dr. Politsky’s children and grandfather individually represented in the characters.

In 2011, Dr. Politsky’s wife was diagnosed with breast cancer. She is fine now; but the process was quite an ordeal. Anyone who has been through this or a similar experience understands this. Dr. Politsky sees and treats patients every day with epilepsy and related neurologic & medical conditions - in many cases illnesses appear like an unexpected storm and can turn people's lives upside down and inside out like a tornado. By the end of 2012, Kim had been diagnosed, treated, and had achieved full physical recovery.

Fifty percent of the proceeds of the sale of each book will be donated equally to research programs dedicated to the study of dementia and memory dysfunction, and to the study of breast cancer.

To purchase a copy of the book, go to http://jumpservicesllc.com/projects.html

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Beginnings by Darlene Beck Jacobson

Since I somehow missed the memo about September endings, I thought I'd be contrary and do beginnings.  As writers, we are often told to begin stories with a hook. A question.  Something that teases the reader and makes her want to  read on. I've often thought about what constitutes a page-turner beginning to a story.
Let's look at the first sentences of some award winning books to see.

In Harper Lee's TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD, she begins with this: "When he was nearly thirteen, my brother Jem got his arm badly broken at the elbow."   We readers immediately want to know HOW. So we read on.

CHAINS by Laurie Halse Anderson begins with: "The best time to talk to ghosts is just before the sun comes up."  WHO is talking and WHY is this person telling us about communicating with ghosts?

Katherine Applegate's soon to be released book CRENSHAW has - what I think - one of the best first lines ever. "I noticed several weird things about the surfboarding cat." Oh my.  Don't you wish you'd written that?

In my own MG historical WHEELS OF CHANGE (Creston Books), I wanted to fix the time and place from the first sentence. "Henry's hammer hits iron - pig, pa-ping."  WHO is Henry?  WHERE are we and why is he hitting iron?

In all of these examples the first sentence works because it makes us want to read on and learn more.

Stay away from cliches, we are also told, or an editor will go no further than page one.  Yet Madeleine L'Engle's Newbery classic A WRINKLE IN TIME begins with the queen of all clicles: "It was a dark and stormy night." Why does it work?  Because we've all experienced such a night where fear is unleashed and nightmares take over.  We read on to see if our own fears and nightmares are revealed on the page.

First lines can be powerful things.

Friday, September 11, 2015

CRUSHING YOUR ENDING

A Guest Blog on September’s Theme
by Cassie Feldman


When my mom asked if I wanted to write her blog post this month—with the theme of “endings”—I said sure then procrastinated for 2 weeks. So here I am, trying to figure out what endings mean to me.  I think I’ll consult my inner dictionary.  Let’s flip to the “E” section:

Cassie’s Inner Dictionary:

Enchilada (n.): 1) A tasty treat
2) A party in my mouth
3) The delicious snack you ordered at fake Mexico in Disney World
Not far enough; keep going…

Endoscopy (n.): Tell your doctor, “Hell NO!” and run for your life
Too far. Oh there it is:

Ending (n.): 1) Done-zo
2)The part you hate writing


That doesn’t help. Okay, let’s look at it another way. My inner dictionary also tells me it’s a noun, meaning it’s a person, place or thing.  An ending isn’t a location and it doesn’t feel like an inanimate object either. An ending can evolve. To me, endings are more like people—like lovable, schizophrenic jerks. So maybe I should redefine “ending” for myself.

If an ending were a person, in order to define it, I would have to utilize the characteristics of every guy I’ve ever had a crush on. An ending can be your first crush. It sticks in your mind for days. You picture yourself in its story, and when your crush looks at you? Game over. That is, unless your crush openly rejects to hold your hand on the playground. Then, an ending can be your first taste of heartbreak. It can send you spinning into the arms of the only people who understand you: Mrs. Fields and Sara Lee.

An ending can make you think. It can be the intellectual you spent nights discussing foreign policy with, or the unpredictable guy with a Mohawk and Shel Silverstein poem tattooed on his back.

An ending can be the awkward guy you met at intramural kickball. Sure, it was funny when he kept missing the ball and falling on his butt. But now you’re wondering where the attraction came from when he continually failed to satisfy the only objective of kickball (aka kick the ball).

An ending can surprise you. At first you think he doesn’t know you exist. But one day, he turns around in math class and tells you he likes you. Then you say, “I like you, too.” And he looks at you funny because, you realize, he didn’t confess his undying love for you; he only wanted to borrow a pencil. Then you’re mortified that you told your inner, most-secret feelings to the guy you like, so you have to get out of the classroom immediately. You go to your teacher and tell her you feel ill. She asks what’s wrong and you need it to be bad. So you say you have “the clap” because you heard people talking about it on MTV, even though your Dad told you not to watch that channel. And you don’t know what “the clap” is; you only know that everyone on The Real World doesn’t want it. So your teacher rushes you to the nurse and tells her you have “the clap.” The nurse shrieks and calls your parents who barge into the school and demand you tell them who you did “the nasty” with. And you have no idea what “the nasty” is so you think of the first man who pops into your head and you say Hans Gruber. And your dad yells “That son of a—” You get the picture.

So which type of ending should you settle down with? I wish I could tell you exactly how to choose, but I’m single, so...
What I will do is tell you how I chose my last ending.

The last book I wrote was a humorous middle grade coming-of-age story. I slogged through my first draft, re-wrote the second, and polished the third. As a result, I had a novel I loved with an ending I hated. I had no clue how to fix it. So I took some time away and tried not to think about it…which turned into me actively thinking about how I shouldn’t be thinking about it. Then I tried something different. I pictured myself in a bookstore, purchasing the book I wrote. I thought about how I would feel reading my book for the first time. “As a reader,” I asked myself, “what do I want to know before it’s over?” Suddenly I had a few places to start.

With that beginning to spark my ending, I thought not only about how my characters would respond to their issues, but how I wanted the reader to feel when it ended. Because if your ending has the characteristics of a former crush, make sure you choose the crush that has the right feel for your story before you commit.

So the next time you find yourself stuck on an ending, give this a try. Think of the reader, think of the characters, and think of that dreamy person you shared an enchilada with in Disney World.

Cassie Feldman is one part science nerd and one part business professional, and most of her parts parts are always thinking about her next project. Currently she’s writing a sitcom pilot while she’s contemplating another novel and trying to place her middle grade with a publisher. She’s fun to follow on Twitter @cassiefeldman
Thanks for the day off, Cassie!
—Jody Feldman

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Ending of Another Kind
By Marcia Thornton Jones

"Sorrow is heavy, hard work. It stalls all your systems in order to force you toward a very, very painful task: coping with loss…loss is hard for us, and healing from it takes a lot of energy. A big loss may require so much energy that our essential selves shut down every possible function.”
(pages 182-183: FINDING YOUR NORTH STAR by Martha Beck)

There are many types of endings. The end of a story, end of summer, end of an era. The end of childhood, end of innocence, end of a relationship. The end of a life.

Some endings are harder than others. The really tough endings involve losses that leave empty spaces in our lives and hearts. Those endings result in profound and often paralyzing grief.

CoCo-Mo was a member of my family. She was my companion, friend, sidekick, and muse for more than 15 years. CoCo was the inspiration for the cat characters of “Cocomo” in the Ghostville Elementary series, “Mo” in the Keyholder series, and “Echo” in my midgrade novel WOODFORD BRAVE.

Two nights ago, as I held her, CoCo’s life ended.

So my question is: how do you summon creative energy to write through paralyzing grief?


Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Happily Ever After -- by Jane Kelley


I believe my books should have happy endings.

I don't have a lot of power in the world, but I do have that one. I can, if I rewrite enough times, provide a satisfying conclusion to whatever drama I have just put my character through. If my girl is hiking, she will reach her goal. If my parrot is lost, he will find his way home. If my ghost is unhappy, she will find peace. And if my boy believes in believing, then he will get the girl. At least for now.

But I also believe in justice. I won't arbitrarily provide a heap of happiness just because we're a few pages from the end. My characters have to earn their rewards.

Actually, that means the writer has to write well enough to earn them. Yup. That means me. I have to make my characters' troubles real, and their reactions to their troubles even more real. Consequences must be suffered. Lessons learned. I have to punish the wicked––or at least not reward them. Because that's part of justice too.

Yes, I believe in happy endings. And I hope that those endings will make my readers happy.
.