Sunday, December 16, 2012

Friday-ish Forward: Two Books to Help Children Cope With Tragedy

This is not the post that I had planned for this weekend. Then again, nobody really plans for the kind of tragedy that happened on Friday. In honor of the children who survived that horrible day, and in honor of the children and teachers who died, I want to share two picture books that I hope will help.

The first is The Heart and the Bottle, by Oliver Jeffers. It tells the story of a little girl who suffers a terrible loss, and her heart hurts so much that she takes it out and puts it in a bottle... Until one day when she finds that she needs it again. It is raw and gentle at the same time, and it cuts straight to how heartbreak feels to a child. You can find it at your local bookstore, or order it here.

The second is Fireboat: the Heroic Adventures of the John J. Harvey, by Maira Kalman. It tells the story of 9/11, and how one old retired fireboat made a difference. This is a book that teaches children that there are always heroes, even in the worst disasters, and that sometimes it is the most unexpected heroes that make the biggest difference. Look for it at your bookstore, or order it here.

I think I've probably said enough for today. More tomorrow.


Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Wednesday Writing: When Critiquing Funk Attacks

Holy WOW, it's been a while since I've done one of these!

So, I've been in a strange kind of critiquing rut lately. The writing is great. But the urge to send my chapters in for critique has definitely waned. I haven't sent anything in to my crit group in a while, and when my turn rolls around, I look at my pages and think, but they're not ready for critique yet... I spent the longest time trying to figure out what was going on with me.

My crit partners? AWESOME. They are my rocks. They are equal parts friend and critique partner. I love them. The feedback they give me? ALSO AWESOME. They make me look hard at the words I have chosen and the structure of my manuscripts and how to make them as good as they can be. My enthusiasm for my pages? TOTALLY THERE. So what the fonk is my problem?

I read through some of my blog posts and recent emails to my group and the feedback I've been giving other people on their work and it just now hit me:

Critique groups are amazing, but sending in 10 pages at a time takes a L-O-N-G time! And once you get the idea of what direction you need to go in, sometimes it's better to just fix the whole darn thing. Plus, sometimes someone's opinion of a piece changes as they read through it. There might be something on page 67 that completely changes how your crit buddies feel about that horribly uncharacteristic thing your protagonist's best buddy does on page 9.

Put another way, sometimes you go a few chapters in with your crit buddies, and by then, you already know how you have to revise it. So you revise it. And then it's time for a Beta reader.

My crit group has begun to experiment with a couple of us sending in whole manuscripts, or big chunks of whole manuscripts, and then going for long stretches without sending in anything else while we work on the revision and other members submit weekly excerpts. I'm not sure if it's working yet - it's too early to tell - but it's more evidence that critique groups are not a one-size-fits-all situation, sometimes writers go through cycles, and sometimes you have to mix it up a little to figure out what's going to work for everyone.

As for me, right now, I just want to write and revise, and then send in the whole thing so my critters' sharp eyes can pick out the flaws.

How does your critique group do it?

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Friday(-ish) Forward: BREATHE, by Sarah Crossan

So, last month my bookclub read BREATHE by Sarah Crossan. We liked it! Here's the blurb from amazon:

Inhale. Exhale. 
Breathe . . .
The world is dead. 
The survivors live under the protection of Breathe, the corporation that found a way to manufacture oxygen-rich air.

has been stealing for a long time. She's a little jittery, but not terrified. All she knows is that she's never been caught before. If she's careful, it'll be easy. If she's careful.

should be worried about Alina and a bit afraid for himself, too, but even though this is dangerous, it's also the most interesting thing to happen to him in ages. It isn't every day that the girl of your dreams asks you to rescue her.

wants to tell him that none of this is fair; they'd planned a trip together, the two of them, and she'd hoped he'd discover her out here, not another girl.

And as they walk into the Outlands with two days' worth of oxygen in their tanks, everything they believe will be shattered. Will they be able to make it back? Will they want to?

I found the concept behind this book really intriguing. And in today's political climate that sees several world leaders treating water as a commodity, it's not that far off, either. In the world of Breathe, someone is always watching. Oxygenated air is something that has to be bought, and it leaves people sick and struggling to survive. That said, this is where the parallels to that aspect of the real world end. While Bea and her family of "subs" do struggle to pay for the air they breathe, they still have modern commodities like showers and electricity. Bea goes to school with other kids from all tiers of society. Her best friend is a Premium. And while I found the social system disturbing, it still felt a lot like "First World Problems." This is not A LONG WALK TO WATER (which you should definitely go read, by the way).

Nor should it be. Despite its post-apocalyptic setting, this is not really a book about socioeconomics. It is a book about three teenagers and the decisions they make. It's about being faced with impossible choices and horrible truths, and growing up in the face of them. And in that respect, this book shines. Though I found myself repeatedly flipping back to check who was speaking during Bea and Alina's chapters, Quinn was a unique and very believable character, and I couldn't help empathizing with him, spoiled and clueless though he was. But the real strong point in this book is the cast of secondary characters. From the innocently obsessed Jazz, to the mysterious Maude Blue, to the freakishly bipolar resistance leader Petra, the people who populate this world are richly imagined and extremely well-fleshed-out. When I finished this book, I was left desperate to find out more about these people, and eagerly awaiting their appearances in its sequel.

BREATHE is not without its issues. The science behind the lack of oxygen, and the way Breathe controls the oxygen in the population living within the pod, could be really solid. But because there aren't enough details to satisfy my scientifically curious mind, it felt flimsy. With all that rain and all that carbon dioxide floating around, there's no way the employees of Breathe would have been able to zap every bit of plant matter for hundreds of miles. And what about other countries? Who runs their pods? How did those governments handle the drop in Oxygen? It is implied that every country responded the same way, but I just don't buy it. I felt like this book could really use an appendix to explain the science, a la AN ABUNDANCE OF KATHERINES by John Green (which you should also read), as well as more bigger-picture world building within the text itself. Additionally, even though the cover is intriguing, because it depicts a world so different from the world actually in the book, I felt that it really did the book a disservice. Every time they found a patch of moss or ivy growing on the outside, and especially when they were walking around in the city, I flipped back to the total wasteland depicted on the cover and shook my head. This is a big pet peeve for me - it's one thing to show something intriguing and metaphorical on the cover (like the infamous TWILIGHT apple), but it's another thing to show a scene differently from the way it actually happens in the book.

That said, I still enjoyed reading BREATHE. This book is carried by its supporting cast, and they. Are. AWESOME. I can't wait to see more of them in the sequel. BREATHE is out now, and can be found in most bookstores, or online at IndieBound here, at Amazon here, and for Canadian shoppers, at Chapters Indigo here.

Happy Reading!