Wednesday, May 9, 2012

New Location

Hello, friends!  I have so much more I want to share with all of you, fabulous authors lined up to share their books and lots of great writing activities for creative fun.  Since we've had such an awful time with Blogger not allowing your comments to publish, we are moving all the fun over to a brand new site:

HeatherSutherlin.com

So, please mark our new location and come check out what's next.  You won't want to miss a single post! 


Friday, May 4, 2012

Free Book Friday with S.M. Boyce

S. M. Boyce is sarcastic, gooey, and laughs too much, but her friends seem to hang out with her anyway. She's also a fantasy author and novel editor who recently published her debut novel, The Grimoire: Lichgates. It's the first in a young adult fantasy adventure series called The Grimoire Trilogy.
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Hey gang! Thanks for having me today. I wanted to talk about two important factors in any writer’s life: writer’s block and story ideas.

I’ve hit road blocks plenty of times while writing. Over the years, I tried writing through writer’s block, writing stream-of-consciousness journals to get the gunk out, and watching TV instead of writing anything at all. None of these techniques really worked—for me.

The thing with writer’s block is that it’s different for each person. How you overcome it is all going to depend on your creative style. That’s exactly what you wanted to hear, right? Haha. Well, the good news is that I have some ideas for helping you figure out how to overcome writer’s block.

All you have to do to get some ideas of your own is to Google “overcome writer’s block.” Every writer I’ve ever met has encountered it at some point, and it’s a popular subject. The downside is that sorting through the endless pages can actually add stress, instead of easing your worry.

So let me tell you what works for me.

Before I even write a chapter, I plot it out. Sometimes, I go so far as to add dialogue, which gives me an idea of the characters and how they will interact in this particular chapter. That way, even if I don’t feel like writing or don’t know what to write, I at least have a place to start. Often, the inspiration comes back to me if I re-read the plot outline I made.

Other times, I have to get out of the house. I spend a lot of time in my office, and spending too much time in your creative place can actually stifle creativity. So I’ll walk the dog in the nearby woods, or go for a short drive. Getting some fresh air can get those creative juices flowing again.
A very popular method of getting over writer’s block is actually to start a writing journal. There are two kinds I’ve heard of.

The first writing journal is a daily journal. Every morning, as soon as you wake up, you write non-stop for ten minutes. Just go. Whatever you want. You can even write “um, um” until you come up with something. The point is that you’re writing and “cleaning out the cobwebs” so to speak. This one doesn’t work for me, but it has helped many writers I know.

The second writing journal is the one I keep. It’s a whenever-journal, one I keep close for when I get spurts of inspiration. Sometimes I just write a character sketch, or a line of dialogue. Other times, it’s an entire story idea. That’s how the Grimoire Trilogy came to be.

Whatever you do, keep a pen and paper with you at all times. You never know when inspiration is going to strike.

I heard once that you become a master at something after practicing the art for 3 hours over ten years. So never stop writing! It just takes time, practice, and a bit of patience.

What’s your favorite way of overcoming writer’s block? Share in the comments!  One lucky reader will win a FREE ebook copy of The Gimoire: Lichgates.  Don't forget to share this link with your literate friends.  Just click one of the buttons below the post.

Grab Your Copy of Lichgates

Connect with Boyce

Thursday, May 3, 2012

The Writer's Life: Sick Days

Sometimes you are going to find yourself too sick or tired to string words together. For instance, that sentence just took me five minutes of typing, editing and retyping.

I'm taking a sick day. When my cold medicen kicks in, I will probably read a book like Dragonfriend by Roger Eschbacher so that I can blog about it in a week or two.

Why don't you read a good book, too? May I suggest one? Oh! I already have! Scroll through the blog and choose a few. Can't afford books? Enter to win The Grimoire by S.M. Boyce.

Not in the mood to read someone else's awesomeness? Why don't you try out one of our writing exercises? Grab a notebook and a pen and get busy creating your own awesome. Or, you could play "Find the typos" in this Sick Day post.

Go ahead, write amongst yourselves. I'll just lie here and sniffle.

Gotta Kleenex,
Heather

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Gotta Read: The Grimoire: Lichgates

The Grimoire: Lichgates by S.M. Boyce

This week’s book is one that I could NOT put down.  Not only was it mesmerizing as a reader, but it inspired me as a writer.  Maybe it is because parts of it remind me of my own personal work.  Or, perhaps it is the detailed and beautiful world-building.  It certainly had something to do with the depth she infused into her characters.  From the beginning of this book, I was smitten.  By the end I was reaching for a pen to rewrite scenes in my own work, in the hopes of capturing some of the energy and beauty for myself.

The story begins with a young woman, Kara, hiking through the forest in the northern Rockies when she unexpectedly passes through a Lichgate, a magical doorway into a hidden part of our world.  She discovers a powerful book, the Grimoire, and finds herself entangled in a dangerous web of political intrigue, deadly secrets, and racial war.  Guided by a dangerous prince who must live in constant disguise, she is never certain who she can trust.  As everything that matters to her is stripped away, she must take on a new identity and find a way to promote peace in a world determined for war.

My Thoughts
Sounds awesome, right?  It is!  This book is full of action from the very beginning.  There are deadly creatures at every turn and Kara struggles to stay just one step ahead with little to guide her in this dangerous place.  It will keep you turning pages, believe me!  

The characters are just as detailed as the many and various creatures.  Imagine different races that are not only distinct in their appearances, but in their abilities and how they live.  Can they ever learn to respect one another and work together?  Must they always fight and consider each other enemies?  I adore what Boyce has done with the prince in this story, Braeden.  As if it isn’t fabulous enough that he lives in constant disguise, hunted by his own father and feared by all others, he softens for Kara, showing a side of himself, and his kind, that none believe to exist.  I think even he is surprised by it.  How incredible it is that Boyce is able to convey all of that to us in a way that feels as though we are discovering Braeden as he is discovering himself.  Wonderful work!

Watch this author, friends.  Her sequel, Treason, is expected to come out this summer.  I am on pins and needles for this one.  I can hardly wait to see what happens next to Kara and Braeden.  Will they finish their quest or die trying?  

Where to Get It

Just click on the format of your choice!
Amazon Kindle 
Amazon Print
Barnes & Noble
The Grimoire Trilolgy site

Want More?
The author of The Grimoire will be here on Friday to share with us her tips for fighting writer’s block and how to gather new story ideas.  The best part: she'll be giving away one FREE ebook. Just leave a comment below to be entered to win. Winner will be announced on Monday. Use the buttons below to share this with friends and come back for more on Friday.  You won’t want to miss this!

Gotta Read,
Heather

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Story Starter Tuesday

If you joined us yesterday for a little writing exercise, then you are gonna rock this! 


The pencil groaned as she looked down at the paper below her.  "Not again," she whined inwardly as her lead scratched the surface of another clean sheet.  "Can't we ever write something else?  All we ever write are..."


Gotta write,
Heather

Monday, April 30, 2012

Writing Exercise: Inanimate Perspective

***Congratulations to Amy B! She won the Barnes and Noble gift card prize from Sarah Treu! Watch on Wednesday for a new book giveaway!***

Did you ever imagine your toys were secretly alive? Dozens of well-loved books (The Velveteen Rabbit) and movies (Toy Story) make me think I wasn't alone in this childhood fantasy. Well, now that you are a little bigger, let's use that imagination to help you become a better writer.

Writing Exercise: Look around the room. Choose one object and imagine that it could tell you it's thoughts.

Ask yourself the following questions: What did it see today? How does it feel? Does it like it here? Does it enjoy it's "job"? What does it dream of doing? If it could escape, where would it go and why?

I'm sure you can think of more questions to ask your chosen item. Now, write a short story from its perspective. Tomorrow, come back to try our Tuesday Story Starter and you'll be glad for the practice.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Free Book Friday

This week I was delighted to share with all of you one of my youngest daughter's favorite books, Investigator Anne.  Today we have the pleasure of hearing from the author and illustrator, Sarah Treu.   


Hi everyone!

I’m so glad I have the opportunity to share a few thoughts with you about writing. I am an author and illustrator of children’s books. I do all of the writing and create all of the pictures for my books. I have written and illustrated a variety of books, from preschool picture books to the early level chapter book series that my husband and I are currently working on. The series, “Investigator Anne,” is about a young girl who solves mysteries around her town. She enlists the help of her siblings and friends who are known as the Gumshoe Crew. In each mystery, the crew makes discoveries about the world around them and learns scientific principles. With a little creativity and team work, they solve exciting mysteries in their own neighborhood.

My husband, Mark, and I both love to write. We write for fun and draw our inspiration
from the experiences we have in our own world. We have five amazing young kids and
they provide us with a lot of inspiration and ideas. They even give us feedback from time
to time. Feedback from kids is important when you are writing for children!

My husband and I started daydreaming about this series a few years ago when our oldest daughter, Anne, became very interested in science, learning and discovery. She was always the one we would ask to help when a ballet slipper needed to be found, or when someone wanted to know what kind of animal prints were in the backyard.

Mark and I love to travel and take family road trips. Many times we will brainstorm story ideas while we drive, and I’ll jot down notes. Later we’ll organize the plot development and begin the first draft of writing. I usually do that. Once the first draft is written, Mark will go through it and write, rewrite, and refine. One of the most important things to know about writing is this simple rule: There is no such thing as good writing, only good rewriting. So we rewrite, rewrite, and rewrite. Once the
story is at a good finishing point, I create the illustrations and format the book. We’ll
then send it to an editor for a final look. Once the book is complete, we self-publish it
through our publishing name, Angel Street Kids Books. You can find all of our books on
Barnes&Noble.com.

Investigator Anne continues to be in the Barnes & Noble top 10 for its age category. I’m
honored to have it be featured right next to the Magic Tree house and the Flat Stanley
books. I am so thrilled when kids write to me to say how much they have enjoyed my
books. I hope you enjoy them too!

Writing and illustrating a book is a big project, but the key is to just do it. Sometimes the
hardest part is just getting started because maybe you’re not sure exactly where to begin.
My recommendation is to just start writing down all of your ideas and then organize
them. Write some more, then write and rewrite. It will come together, just keep going.

Another thing I’ve found is that writing doesn’t just happen at the computer. I write from
what I observe in the world around me. I write in my head and I draw in my head too.
I begin to see things as stories and pictures and pages in a book inside my head before
they are ever in a real book. The ideas form in my head while I’m watching my kids at
the park, when I’m on a bike ride, or when I’m doing anything else. Keep writing even
when you don’t have a pencil, and then when you do get a hold of a pencil write down
everything! My own daughter loves to write in her head too. Once when I told her to
practice the piano, she replied in third person: “Okay, she said sighing.” LOL! Now
that’s a girl who’s always writing a story.

Writing is fun! If it gets stressful, take a break and go for a run or go dig in the sandbox
for a while. But whatever you do, don’t give up, go back to your writing again. You will
feel great satisfaction by completing a writing piece and making it the very best that you
can. Happy writing!

Your friend,
Sarah Treu

***Want to win Sarah's books for FREE?  Just leave a comment below.  The winner will be announced on Monday and will recieve a $10 gift card to Barnes & Noble.  If you are coming to us from Facebook, you will have to leave the Facebook app and come back to us from your browser in order to post a comment.  Be a good friend and share this with your book-loving pals.***

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Gotta Read: Investigator Anne


So far on You’ve Gotta Read Wednesdays, we've covered books for middle grade and teens.  Today I am excited to share with you a fabulous book for elementary readers. Investigator Anne: Case #1 Timeless Treasure Lost 
  
This book is one my youngest daughter loved!  It’s about a little girl, Anne, who loves mysteries.  She reads all the mystery books she can find.  When her mother's birthday gift goes missing, Anne comes to the rescue!  Readers will love following the clues with Anne as she searches for the gift and the answer to the mystery.  Anne shows us that we don’t have to be famous detectives to be helpful.  We can use our sleuthing skills to solve mysteries here in the real world.



My Thoughts
The Investigator Anne series is fabulous because the author incorporates science and deductive reasoning into the story as Anne and her friends try to solve the mystery. As a teacher and a parent, this is special because it demonstrates to the young reader how the things they are learning can be used in real life to fix tough situations.  It also encourages kids to be helpful, something many children naturally desire.


My daughter, Evie, turns 8 this week. She loves detectives and secret agents (honestly, I think she just likes an excuse to sneak around!) This book had her begging for more. "One more chapter, mom, please!" How can you argue with that? As soon as we finished the book, Evie raced upstairs to get a pink cape like Anne. She came back with an old camera box, one with a long strap and a shiny metal clasp on the front. "Look, mom, it's a clue kit, just like Anne!" Inside she had a magnifying glass, a notebook and a pencil. She couldn't wait to help us solve a few mysteries - just like Anne. That is the mark of a good book! When the reader puts it down and immediately wants to put what they've learned into practice somehow, you know you've found something special.


Where to Get It

Investigator Anne - Case #1 Timeless Treasure Lost [NOOK Book]

Investigator Anne - Case #2 Sneaky Sneakers [NOOK Book]


More to Come
On Friday, we will have a very special visit from the author herself, Sarah Treu. Please come back to hear how she put together the series and what it is like to be a writer/illustrator. Be a good friend and share this with your book-loving pals. It's easy to share with the buttons below.


Want a free copy of Investigator Anne? Leave a comment below. One lucky reader will recieve a $10 gift card to Barnes and Noble. That's enough to buy most of Sarah Treu's books for Nook! (May I suggest Counting Bugs? Adorable!)

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Story Starter Tuesday

Hope you had fun writing yesterday as you reimagined something you enjoy. Ready for this week's story starter? Don't forget to ask yourself good questions before you get started with it, okay? Happy writing!




Boy was mom mad!  I ran across the yard to my favorite tree and climbed up as fast as I could.  That’s when it hit me ....









Monday, April 23, 2012

Writing Exercise: Reimagine Something


Hello, Writerlings! Hope you all had a fabulous weekend. I didn't get a single word typed this weekend, so I was kind of disappointed. But, I had lots of fun with family, so that makes up for a lot.  



I've been thinking a lot lately about a new story idea and wondering if I can make it work without seeming like every other story in the same genre. It had me thinking about many of my other favorite stories and this led me to today's writing exercise:


Think of something you find interesting, an invention, a myth, an animal, a fairytale, etc. Then, redefine it. Look at it from a new angle.


This what great writers do to make their story familiar and still new. Some take a familiar tale and then reverse it somehow. One example would be the recent Disney movie about the Frog Prince. Instead of the same old story about how kissing a frog makes him a prince, the writers turned it around. Now the girl who kissed the frog is a frog, too! What happens next? Well, that's where the real story is, right?  


Or, you could take a historical or mythological topic you find interesting and already know a lot about and turn it around a bit. Ask yourself, what if this was still true somewhere today? What if these people or creatures are around us and we just aren't aware of it? Rick Riordan caught the attention of millions with his Percy Jackson story that used this same technique as he reimagined Greek mythology (and then Roman and Egyptian, as well!) J.K. Rowlling did the same with magic and wizards when she created Harry Potter. What could you reimagine? Norse mythology? Mermaids? The legend of Atlantis? 


The fun is just beginning with the question of "How can it work? How could that happen?" Once you begin to ask "Why?"..... Well, that's when the real story begins.
Why are there still wizards in the world and why do they need Harry Potter?
Why are all the demi-gods abandoned by their immortal parents? Why must they stick together?
Why?


So, try this for your own favorite topic of interest. Reimagine it, look at it from a different angle. Then, ask yourself why. See if that doesn't spark a new direction for your writing this week.


Gotta write,
Heather

Friday, April 20, 2012

Freebie Friday Goes Hip-Hop

I am thrilled to share today’s freebie with all of you.  It is not a book this week, but as a writing teacher, I am super excited about this one, guys, and I know you are going to love it.

Earlier this week I was discussing tools for teaching kids how to write really great stuff with my pal, Joshua Unruh.  He suggested I check out Flocabulary, a company that uses hip hop to help kids learn academic material.  I’m honestly the least “hip-hop” person I know, except for maybe my mother in law, but that’s why Flocabulary is so fabulous.  Kids love hip-hop and Flocabulary brings that fun and creativity that they naturally connect with and uses its power to introduce great material, including writing techniques.  You get to be the cool teacher, just by sharing Flocabulary with your kids!

Well, naturally I explored their website and I loved their recent post about 5 ways to teach writing with Flocabulary.   That’s when I went to find my 12 year old to drag her into the middle of this.  We don’t listen to a lot of rap music in our house (if you don’t count the rapping on Electric Company, that total goes down to “none”) so I wasn’t sure how she would respond to this idea.  What an idiot I am sometimes.  Of course she loved it!  We watched a few of their free videos and she was asking me to play them again and again.  Then, she wanted me to print off the lyrics to the Transitions song.  I asked her why.  “So I can memorize them.  I didn’t know this stuff and I think it would be fun to learn the rap so I can remember it.”  That’s the whole point of Flocabulary.  She got it!  It grabs their attention and makes them want more.

I contacted Flocabulary and asked permission to blog about them.  They were excited to share their hard work with all of us.  If you go to they're website, you’ll find Flocabulary’s great products are accessible without signing up for a trial. But thanks to the awesome people over at Flocabulary, we have an incredible opportunity to share the fun of hip-hop learning with our students this spring.

When you visit Flocabulary’s website, you’ll see that they offer everyone a free trial which provides unlimited access to all of their songs and videos for 14 days. 

But wait, there’s more!  Just for you, the good people at Flocabulary have created a special code that will allow you to swim in the Flocabulary fun for a whole 30 free days! 
Just use this link: http://flocabulary.com/kidsgottawrite30/ or enter the code "kidsgottawrite30" when you sign up for a free trial and the 30 days of Flocabulary awesomeness are yours!  


Now don't be stingy. Share this great deal with all of your teacher friends and the great parents you know. We could all use a little help when it comes to enticing our students to learn. And don't forget to check out Flocabulary's other fabulous products, too! I know a certain girl in this house who is going to be begging me for the Flocabulary Shakespeare.  


Thank you, Flocabulary for sharing your genius with all of us and making us the coolest teachers on the block!

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Story Starter Tuesday

If you missed the lesson on how to get more out of your story starter fun, click here


 Here is this week’s story starter:


I was so excited to be his assistant for a day that I accidently dropped the cup he had given me.  The liquid spilled out onto the grass, forming a small puddle at my feet.  But then I noticed something strange ...

Monday, April 16, 2012

Writing Exercise: Story Starters

***Congratulations to Becca Campbell who won a free copy of Island of Fog!***


Ask yourself this question.... How to get more out of story starters.
My kids say I should be offering more ways to get kids writing.  I completely agree.  They suggested a few fabulous ideas and one of them is the classic “story starter”.  So, starting tomorrow, I’ll be offering up a story starter each week for you writers out there who need a little jumpstart.  Share them with friends, make a game out of it.  See who can write the most fantastic story from one little sentence.  But first, I want to teach you how to make a story starter more fun and more effective.  

Let’s say I give you a story starter like this one: You are riding through the woods with a group of friends.  Then, suddenly....

Well, that should be an easy one, right?  But wait!  Before you start writing ask yourself this question - What are you riding on?  How many of you read that story starter and instantly pictured your friends on either a horse or a bicycle?  What other things could you be riding through the woods?  Could you be riding a motorcycle?  Inside a car or even a royal carriage?  What about riding on a unicorn?  A dinosaur?  A giant spotted leopard?  A mutant plant?

Do you see how asking yourself that one question could change the entire direction of a story?  It could change the genre from classic fairytale to alien space adventure!  Write the unexpected.  Imagine something new.  Tomorrow I’ll give you a new story starter to play with, so come back and this time... bring a pencil!

Gotta Write,
Heather

Friday, April 13, 2012

Free Book Friday (the Thirteenth)

It's Friday the 13th, people!  I'm not very superstitious, but when I saw that we had a Friday the 13th coming up, I set out to find a good book to share with all of you who love the creepier tales.  Unfortunately, I don't read a lot of creepy tales these days.  I've outgrown them, I suppose.  So, when I mentioned this dilemma to my daughter, she pointed out the book I had been telling her about recently, Island of Fog.  "It sounds pretty creepy, Mom."  Well, I wouldn't have put it that way, but there are certainly a lot of secrets hiding on the Island of Fog.  So, grab a copy and dig in.  Or, better yet, leave a comment and win a free copy of this exciting book!  We'll announce the winner on Monday.

Today I have the honor of introducing you to the fabulous author, Keith Robinson.  He's working diligently on the second half of this series and has made quite an impression on fans, even catching the attention of the fabulous Piers Anthony.  Today he shares with us the process of building his series from the ground up.  So, take a peek into how it all began with Keith Robinson.


I moved to the USA from England in 2001 and started writing ISLAND OF FOG the following year.  It was a long process writing bits here and there, honing my skills, and also switching from British English to US English (which I felt was necessary if I ever planned to submit a manuscript to a US publisher.)  In 2008 I made a concerted effort to finish the novel, then sent it to a professional editor.  This was the first time anyone other than myself had read it, so I was nervous. But she loved it.
I had one copy printed by CreateSpace just because I wanted to see what it “felt” like, but once I held it in my grubby hands, I decided to go ahead with self-publishing. This was in April 2009. Somehow I ended up being “discovered” by the local library (by word of mouth) and from there I did book talks, signings, interviews, and so on, all in the local area. My books are in three public libraries, several middle schools, and on the shelves at the local Barnes & Noble (next to J. K. Rowling!). Meanwhile, bestselling fantasy author Piers Anthony favorably reviewed ISLAND OF FOG in his July 2009 newsletter, and because of that I was contacted by an agent who wanted to represent the book as a potential TV/movie property.
The book started out as a single novel, but even before I finished writing it, I’d decided to make it into a trilogy. So the second book, LABYRINTH OF FIRE, came along in November 2009. This was a six-month turnaround from start to finish, a vast improvement over six years! Clearly I had figured out what I was doing. The third book, MOUNTAIN OF WHISPERS, rounded off the trilogy in August 2010.
But as I was finishing that third book, I decided I wanted to continue the story further. Even though the trilogy had ended, I saw no reason not to start another 3-book arc. LAKE OF SPIRITS continues the story but also starts a new arcing subplot. Naturally the series is now intended to be six books (possibly more); I’m currently writing the fifth, ROADS OF MADNESS, and will start on the sixth later in the year. There seems to be an endless number of angles I can explore in this series; my only dilemma is which I should choose.
Writing a series has many benefits. The characters are established in the first book, and the rest of the series is spent expanding on their personalities. It’s a cliche, but when you write/read other books in a series, there’s a sense of “putting on a comfortable sweater.” You can be with old friends again and join them on a new adventure. And from a purely business point of view, once you sell readers on that first book, they’re going to want to get the rest in the series. It’s a no-brainer in terms of “cashing in.”
I often use a single point of view in my writing. The entire FOG series is seen through the eyes of twelve-year-old Hal Franklin. I’ve been very careful to ensure that every word of narrative is from his POV and doesn’t temporarily jump into someone else’s head. This approach works well for me, and I think it draws readers deeper into the story. For one thing, they’re not continually jumping from character to character where one subplot might, unfortunately, be less interesting than another. Also, it helps convey a greater sense of mystery; when you read a chapter about a villain plotting his Great Scheme early in the book, the reader is then more knowledgeable than the main protagonist, and it can be frustrating waiting for him to catch up. Being firmly inside the main character’s head throughout means we know only what he knows, thus heightening the mystery.
But this approach does present limitations. Occasionally a scene will take place that I would love to describe but can’t because the main character is not there. He can’t be everywhere all the time, and it would seem forced if he was. So, sadly, once in a while that scene happens “off-camera,” which itself can be a challenge. Careful plotting is needed in these instances.
Then again, careful plotting is ALWAYS needed, so nothing new there. I wrote my first book organically and ended up rewriting or deleting entire chapters when I realized I was going in the wrong direction. Writing a chapter summary beforehand means I go through that same plotting/thinking process early and can therefore avoid writing chapters I don’t need!

Want to win a free copy of Island of Fog?  Leave a comment below and you are entered to win!  The winner will be announced Monday.  *** If you are visiting us from Facebook, you need to leave Facebook and come back to us through your browser in order to leave a comment. ***

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Gotta Read: Island of Fog

Allow me to pretend that I posted this yesterday.  I haven’t been feeling well and as I mentioned yesterday, I’ve been in a bit of a writing funk, which has put me behind schedule a bit. However, I just couldn’t wait to tell you about the Island of Fog.

I recently read the book, Island of Fog by Keith Robinson.  What a thrilling adventure!  It tells about a group of families who have moved to a mysterious island, covered constantly by fog.  Each family is raising a child on this tiny island and the children grow up wondering about life beyond the fog.  What is happening on the mainland?  Will they ever return to find out?  What caused their parents to move them all here and why won’t they talk about it?  

Hal Franklin is twelve years old, like the other kids on the island, and he is tired of all the mystery, of all the secrets, and especially of all the fog.  When Hal’s friend Robbie discovers a cave where all the fog seems to be coming from, they decide to cover it up with branches.  If they can stop the fog, then maybe they might be able to see the mainland, or at the very least, the sun.  This starts a dangerous chain of events that include wild and terrifying monsters, hidden secrets, and sudden transformations that leave the children struggling to understand what it’s all about.  When a visitor arrives at the island one day and takes over the school house, the children don’t know whether to trust her or fear her.  She may hold the key to understanding what is really happening on the Island of Fog or … she may be the one who destroys them all.

My Thoughts:
This book kept me turning pages furiously into the night.  Excitement, mystery, secret powers and bizarre monsters.  It has everything!  I would recommend this book to readers over fourth grade and I just know my kids are going to eat it up.  Personally, I don’t know many adults who wouldn’t enjoy this book, too.  The ending is a complete surprise (Kudos, Mr. Robinson, on that excellent turn of events, by the way) and I was happy to discover that this was only the first book in an extensive series.  Happy news for fans like me who can’t get enough.  

Where to Get It:
You can find Island of Fog at Amazon.com, or Barnes and Noble.  I downloaded my copy from BN.com as an ebook and read it on my ipad with the Nook app.  You can also find all of Mr. Robinson’s books at his fabulous website, unearthlytales.com



More to Come:
Come back tomorrow to hear from the author himself.  He’s offering a free copy of his book to one lucky reader.  Just leave a comment below and you are entered to win!  The winner will be declared on Monday. *** If you are visiting us from Facebook, you need to leave Facebook and come back through your browser in order to leave a comment. ***


Gotta Read,
Heather

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

In a Funk

**** Congratulations to Robyn Leatherman who won the copy of TEEN Agents in the Plundered Parent Protocol!  ****

We all know that writers (and other artist types) are known for their moodiness.  The truth is writing, like many art forms, is a study in extremes.  Even without global success, writers like moi experience this phenomenon.  When you finish a story that's been rolling around inside of you for a while, it is such an awesome high.  You feel exuberant and eager to share it with the world.  Then, eventually, you come crashing down when you realize it is obviously flawed and the world does not share your enthusiasm for the work you've done.

In addition to this unavoidable scenario, you, as writer, will stumble inevitably into the dreaded writer's block.  After writing for weeks without stop, you suddenly find yourself crushed up against a wall of nothingness.  No words can be found, formed, and filled into the void that has become your latest manuscript.   It's disheartening at the very least.  At the worst, it can be what leads to drunkeness and debauchery in so many of the world's best artists.  I now can say I understand an inkling of their pain.

After finishing my recent novel, I found my mind aflood with imagery that needed to be expressed.  I wrote daily, almost obsessively, for months.  However, as I turned my attention to the sequel, I found myself slowing to a crawl.  I couldn't help but focus on all the flaws in my original manuscript.  I began to worry about the reactions of those I had sent it to for feedback and review.  I thought I would snap out of this funk by shifting my attention to other writerly pursuits like this blog.  Alas, now the funk has spread. I began avoiding the computer altogether.  I find myself struggling to sit down and type even one sentence of inspiration for all of you lovely readers.

But, lo!  What do I see?  I have now finished three paragraphs.  They may not be brilliant, they are certainly flawed, but they are there.  They exist.  It's a start.  I am reminded of a thought I recently read.  Some author more brilliant than I stated that to be a writer you must write every day.  (Okay, actually, ALL the writers I know say this, so that is no surprise.)  He goes on to explain that even if you write drivel three or four days in a row, on the next day you may write something brilliant.  This spark becomes a fire and soon enough you are writing again like never before.  What a wonderful thought!

Don't give up when you hit that wall.  Keep writing.  Maybe you have to switch gears, write in a journal for a few days, write letters to your grandmother, write instructions on how to feed your pet gerbil.  I don't know, but keep writing.  Write every day!  This is how you overcome, by continuing on even when life tries to slow you down.  Don't give up.  The words will come eventually, but it is your job to be there when they arrive, ready to capture them and force them into submission.  Are you ready?

Gotta Write,
Heather

Friday, April 6, 2012

Friendly Free Book Friday


****Comment below to win a copy of TEEN Agents in the Plundered Parent Protocol.****
This week we are excited to introduce you to Joshua Unruh, author of the fabulously fun TEEN Agents series.  Today he shares with us how his childhood interests influenced the writing of The Plundered Parent Protocol.  (This is my daughter's new favorite book!  And she is "totally a huge fan of Mr. Unruh.  He's so cool!"  Well, there you go.  I can't top that as an introduction.  Here's Mr. Totally Cool himself, Joshua Unruh.



Sausage Innards

Heather asked me to talk a little bit about how the things I liked when I was a pre-teen and teenager (I’m old enough that there wasn’t a questionable label like tween when it would have fit me) fed into my fevered brain and came out as TEEN Agents in the Plundered Parent Protocol.

Well, this ought to be easy. A lot of the stuff I liked then is stuff I still like now!

I like it in a different, more grown-up way (or so I’ve convinced myself). But it’s still a lot of the same stuff from back in the day. That age is when I started to discover things other than superheroes that were going to gnaw into my brain like a worm and stay there forever. The second most important of those discoveries was espionage fiction. More specifically, it was Spy-fi.

For ease, I’m going to use the Wikipedia entry’s definition of Spy-Fi:
It often uses a secret agent (solo or in a team) or superspy whose mission is a showcase of science fiction elements such as technology and ideas used for extortion, plots for world domination or world destruction, futuristic weapons, gadgets and fast vehicles that can travel on land, fly, or sail on or under the sea.
My dad was a HUGE Man from U.N.C.L.E. fan when he was a kid. He got me watching it and, for some reason I still can’t understand, whatever channel ran it had Avengers afterward. No, not the superheroes with Iron Man and Captain America. Rather, a British male and female duo calmly and coolly handling all of Britain’s weird scientists and would-be worldbeaters. The godawful movie Wild Wild West, a Western Spy-fi, also came out around this time and, thank goodness, my dad was there for me on that one too. He let me know the seed was a television show that was not godawful.

Spy-fi felt to me like spies, which I loved, married with superheroes, which I loved EVEN MORE. The final nail in the coffin was discovering Nick Fury: Agent of SHIELD. This was superspies set in a comic book universe with existing superheroes and supervillains. Peanut butter meet chocolate.

My favorite Young Adult literature will always be superheroes. But when I decided to have female protagonists, I had to deal with the fact that the ladies don’t really dig on superheroes. But heroines have always had a strong place in Spy-fi. Emma Peel was at least as popular as John Steed. Contessa was a supporting character for Nick Fury, but she still managed to get a lot of solo stories. There was even a Girl from U.N.C.L.E. spin-off that I liked as much as the Man.

In the modern era, you have Bond girl Wai Linn (Michelle Yeoh) showing up the titular character. You’ve got Sydney Bristow (Jennifer Garner) leading an everything-and-the-kitchen-sink Spy-fi show called Alias for five seasons. There was a La Femme Nikita remake starring Maggie Q. Batwoman is the best Bat-Family book on the shelves. ABC Family, of all places, gave us Natalie Morales in The Middle Man, which feels like TEEN Agents after it graduated from college.

Clearly if I wanted to write a book with female protagonists that would appeal to young ladies as well as 12-year-old-me, it had to be a Spy-fi book. And that’s a biggest part of how TEEN Agents was born.

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Thursday, April 5, 2012

The Writer's Life: Encouragement

****If you would like to win a free copy of TEEN Agents in the Plundered Parent Protocol by Joshua Unruh, please leave a comment below.****

 I love teaching almost as much as I love writing.  Each year I get to work with some incredible young writers as we write together during National Writing Month.  I work with writers as young as second grade! It's fabulous fun watching them try new things and bravely capture all their thoughts and ideas on paper.  I love it!

I find middle school writers to be particularly interested in developing their craft.  However, these writers are so often easily discouraged by teachers, parents and friends when the people around them don't see the value in the hobby they have chosen.  It's often solitary work, that of a writer, and I think young people feel the pain of it more easily.  They don't want to be the weird one who would rather curl up with a good book than play soccer, or hide in a quiet spot with their writing notebook instead of play at recess.  But, for those of us with this love of words burning in our hearts, we can't deny it for long.  Eventually we're right back in that favorite place, scribbling furiously or reading as fast as we can stand.

All it takes to keep us going is a friend smiling good naturedly when they find us hiding with our journal, or a pat on the back from a teacher, a "good job" from mom or dad or favorite aunt.  A little encouragement goes a long way.  Some of these young writers will be the next great novelist or write a smash movie script, but most will just be really eloquent as they defend their doctoral dissertation or write an encouraging letter to a heartbroken friend.   So, let's cheer them on!  Give them a smile when they chatter to you about their writing and then show them this blog.  I hope to be the friendly voice who encourages them to keep trying, keep reading, keep writing.

If you know any young writers you want to encourage, please share my site with them, too.  Hand them some paper and a pencil on Mondays when I post a writing exercise or ask them what they think about The Writer's Life posts each Thursday.  Challenge them to think, to read and, above all, to keep writing.

 Gotta write, Heather

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Learning From Mistakes

I made a mistake. When I set up this blog I didn't check the comment settings. It honestly never occurred to me. Well, last week during our free book giveaway I discovered the problem when I realized that a hundred people had looked at the blog, but not one of them had posted a comment for our contest! The two devoted fans who jumped through the hoops and hurdles in order to get their comments posted should be lauded. Still, I don't intend to make it so difficult to participate in our giveaways, or any other discussion for that matter. If you were one of the many trying to comment for your chance to win Into the Flames, by Jessie Sanders, I'm sorry. You can still find it on Amazon and Barnes and Noble.

Learning from mistakes like this one, I've decided to move our contest announcements to Wednesday. Each week I hope to introduce to you a fabulous new book from an indie author. Last week I told you about TEEN Agents in the Plundered Parent Protocol. Well, on Friday we will get to hear from the author, Joshua Unruh, as he shares some of the inspiration he's carried from childhood into his books. He has graciously offered to share a free copy with one of our lucky readers!

So, leave a comment below for your chance to win and then be a good friend and share the link. We make it easy for you. Just click one of the buttons below to share it on your favorite social site. Then, come back Friday and see what the author has to say. We'll announce the winners this weekend, so stay tuned.

Monday, April 2, 2012

A Writing Exercise

****Congratulations to Shannon Iverson who won the Free Book Friday contest! We'll have a new free book offer this Friday, so come back and comment for your chance to take home a new book!**** 


Hello, writerlings!  Today is April 2nd which means Script Frenzy is in full swing.  For those of you who don't have a clue what script frenzy is, you can look back at my post about it or follow the link to the Script Frenzy website.  There you can sign up to join the masses as they fearlessly quest to write a complete script in one month.  (If you are a grown up writer who wants to join the fun, go here.)

Even if you never intend to write a script of any kind, I found this fabulous worksheet from week two of their "bootcamp" to be an excellent writing exercise.    It focuses on your main character's motivation for their journey and then helps you to define more of your villain as well.  We had lots of fun going through the worksheets here at home with our young writers and I thought you might enjoy it, too.  I found the following questions particularly helpful as I am currently editing my recent novel:


1. What does your main character want?
2. What does he or she need to do to make his or her dreams come true?
3. How does he or she change during the journey?

It's funny how I thought I knew the answers to those questions when I started out writing, but now that I am looking back on a finished draft, I see that the answers have changed a bit.  As a matter of fact, the answer to the first question was very hard to find.  My character starts out her story thinking she wants one thing, but discovers in the end she wants something very different.  Isn't that so often true?  Even in my own life I see this happening.  This is part of what contributes to a character's change, growth.

How well do you know your characters?  Are they living inside of you yet?  Can you understand them well enough to know why they do what they do?  If not, this simple exercise will help you to breathe a little life into those precious creatures before you send them off on their journey.  Come back and tell us how it helped you!

Gotta write,
Heather

Friday, March 30, 2012

Friendly Free Book Friday


Happy Friday, Friends!  This week we have a special guest among us.  On Wednesday I shared with you one of my new favorite books, Into the Flames.  Today we are delighted to welcome the author, Jessie Sanders, as our guest.  In addition to writing, Jessie is an editor who shares her special skills with new authors to help them improve their fabulous work before it meets the world.

Today she shares her thoughts on how to build a better fantasy world.  Thanks, Jessie!



You might have heard it said that your story is like an iceberg. Well, it’s true. The tiny
tip that you see at the top is the story that your readers get to read in book form. The rest,
hidden under the surface, is everything that you, the author, know about your world and
your characters. Without the bottom of your iceberg, the tip of it will just float away,
baseless. Scary, right?

The core of every fantasy novel is a well-established fantasy world. Remember the
detailed inner workings of JK Rowling’s Ministry of Magic? How about all they ways
that Meyers’s vampires differ from the original legend? Both these authors took the time
to develop their worlds in such a way that you could step into it and really live it.

There is a very simple question that you need to ask yourself every time you begin
working on creating a world: What makes my world special? Even if you have a lot of
similarities to other fantasy novels (and it’s something that will be inevitable), you need
to have your own special take for your story and build from that. After you’ve deduced
what is special about your world, you can build it up into something that everyone will
want to enter with you.

If your story is set in a completely different universe, then Patricia Wrede, author
of Dealing with Dragons, has created a great checklist to get you thinking about
everything you will need to know about your world. The questions include things like
your country’s climate and geography, the rules of your magic system, and the type of
currency your characters will use.

The rules of your magic system are important whether you’re in a galaxy far, far, away
or just under some subway tunnels in London (that’s a reference to Neil Gaiman’s
Neverwhere, in case you want to check it out). High fantasy author Brandon Sanderson
has some great rules to consider when working through your magic system: Sandersons-First-Law. In my novel, Into the Flames, one of the characters mentions the rules that govern their superpowers. Rahab, the main character, expresses disbelief that there is such a thing. But even though Rahab doesn’t know it, I’ve been running her and her friends’ lives by a set of rules that
governs what they can and can’t do. In the end, the restrictions to their superpowers raise
the stakes and make the ending more exciting.

Even if your characters use magic sparingly or never at all, you still need to know what
would happen if your bad guy suddenly decides to use your version of the cruciatus curse
to torture your hero. Take your main character through a typical day in his life. What
types of magic might he encounter, and what would happen if something went totally
awry? Why is that what happens? In every scenario, what could possibly go wrong?
Figuring out alternate paths for your story to take ultimately makes the path you choose
much stronger.

Remember whenever you’re creating a new world that it’s great to let others’ works
inspire you, but you should never mimic anyone else’s ideas. If you love the idea of a
magical train that has a secret train station, then put one in your story! But make sure to
make it your own. This world already has a Platform 9 ¾, and we don’t need another. But
we do need whatever your imagination can bring us! Take the time before you delve into your
plot to sit down and really hash out what your world will look like and how it will work.
Your readers will thank you, and it’s actually a lot of fun!

* * * * * * *

Did you think I forgot the free book for Friday?  Well, to celebrate the release of Jessie Sanders' first book, her publisher, Consortium Books, is offering one special reader a free copy of Into the Flames.  Leave a comment below for a chance to win.  Then, on Monday, we'll announce the lucky reader that gets to take home Into the Flames.

Gotta Write,
Heather

Thursday, March 29, 2012

The Writer's Life: Dream Journals

I have very vivid dreams. I like to call them, Movie Dreams. Often, in my movie dream I am not myself. I get to see the world from someone else's point of view, experiencing the world through their eyes. I may be exploring Africa on safari, or attacked by villains at a fancy party. I've seen ancient Rome, climbed mountains, been chased by wolves, and fallen in love dozens of times - all in my dreams. I learned years ago to use them as inspiration.


It started after a particularly fantastic dream. I woke up with that familiar frustration. "No! Why did I wake up? I wanted to see what happens next!" So, I lay there wishing, trying to see what I had seen before and when that didn't work, I began to fill in the blanks. What would have happened next? How did they get into that situation in the first place? Before long I had a pretty good story on my hands. I didn't want to forget any of it. So, I climbed out of bed and grabbed a pen and a journal. I wrote feverishly, desperate to get it all down on paper. Before I knew it, I had nearly ten handwritten pages.


I kept that journal, even added to it a few times when I woke up with a particularly great story in my head. A few years later, that dream became my first finished novel, one I will hopefully be able to share with you before the end of the year.


People always want to know where great writers find their inspiration. Some find their ideas from life around them, from asking deep questions, from news stories, from re-imagining history, and some find their inspiration from dreams.  This is why keeping a detailed log of my most vivid dreams helps me to be a better writer. When I have a truly fabulous dream, I write it down before I can forget. Then, I keep it until I am ready to write more. I have many more dreams logged than I will ever write, I'm sure, but it is nice to know I won't run out of ideas.


Do you have vivid dreams? Wish you could go back and relive some of them? Do you wake up wishing you knew what happened next? Try a dream journal. Just a spiral notebook and a pencil is more than you need. You'll be on your way to becoming a great writer.


Gotta Write,
Heather

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

You Gotta Read: Into the Flames

Into the Flames by Jessie Sanders is the beginning of what may be my new favorite series.  In this book we are introduced to Rahab, a transfer student at Grover Cleveland Academy, a boarding school in Boston.  Quiet and shy, she takes a while to make friends, fearing a repeat of the painful events that sent her running from her last school.  When two of the school "freaks" befriend her, she wonders if she should trust them, or if she should avoid them and try harder to be "normal" this time.  But soon she discovers that she might have more in common with them than she thought.  Can she be a true friend and stand up for them against the bully that torments them?  Will Rahab face her fears when her friends need her most?

It took me awhile to relate to the main character since she is so guarded with herself, but her friendship with Scout and Hawkins draws you in, revealing more of Rahab, and soon you are cheering for these three. I couldn't put it down!



I am recommending this book “T for teens.”  I didn’t see anything in it that my preteen wouldn’t enjoy or even be harmed by, but it is clearly written for a slightly older audience.  I just think she’ll enjoy it more when she’s a little older and can relate to the characters better.  I finished it with a rush, desperately wishing there was another book to follow it because Sanders really does an incredible job of making you care about her characters.  I have so much more I want to say about it, but doing so would spoil the surprise.  So, go now and grab a copy for yourself.  I downloaded mine for the Kindle app, but you can also find it at B&N’s site and even order a paperback on Amazon.  Come back and let us know how you liked it.  

Don’t forget to come back on Friday for a special treat - I have the author, Jessie Sanders, sharing her thoughts on 
fantasy world building for teens/young adults.  You won’t want to miss it!

Friday, March 23, 2012

Free Book Fridays

Fridays at Kids Gotta Write are reserved for free books and good friends of the writerly persuasion.  I have some really fabulous writers lined up for the next few weeks, so be sure you come back on Fridays and see what they have to say about writing.  There might even be a free book in it for some of you!

This week I wanted to share one of my new found loves: PubIt! books on Nook.

In my search for new authors to read and, above all, free books, I discovered this fabulous section of the Barnes and Noble website.  PubIt! allows authors to share their self-published books with the world through the B&N website.  This means you can discover new authors at incredibly low prices!

The Barnes and Noble Nook section of their website is wonderful and you should go explore as soon as you finish reading this.  Why?  Because they make it easy for you to find exactly what you are looking for whether it is a digital book for a certain age group, a particular genre you enjoy, or a specific price point.  I go straight to the PubIt! section and search for juvenile fiction, my favorite is fantasy.  I usually browse through a few pages of free books first.  Sometimes I get distracted by some suggestion of a book and I end up paying a dollar or two, but I've read dozens of books now from their site and never paid more than $2.99 for a book.

Some people, mostly people in the traditional publishing industry, complain that these sorts of sites are a disservice to the public because they don't control what is sent out into the world.  Any person, even my youngest child if she wanted, could publish their work through PubIt (or any of the other venues that are similar) and you, the reading public, could pay money to read the unedited, mediocre work of a child.  Well, I say, is that really so bad?  Who among us hasn't paid actual good money ($15 or more) for a book somewhere along the way that was written, edited, published and marketed by the big publishing companies, placed in a big important looking bookstore and then into our eager hands only to find that the overpriced book we just bought was rubbish?!  I have!!! More times than I want to admit.  Honestly, that kind of scenario is exactly how I ended up convincing myself that maybe someday I really could be an author.  If someone else can get their horrible no good, very bad book published and read by millions, then maybe I could dare to do the same.  (Only with a slightly flawed book instead of horrible, no good... well, you get the picture.)

I suggest you explore, take a chance on a new up and coming author who will sit at home rejoicing in that one sale because it was one more than he/she had yesterday.  Take pride in helping some fledgling out and I hope you choose well.  If you do, come back and tell us about the wonderful new book you found and enjoyed.

Don't forget, next week I'll start sharing some of my favorite books and authors I've discovered.  They are all either self-published or working with indie publishers, so you will be seeing some of the great new authors our world is only just now getting to know.  I can hardly wait to share them with you!  See you next Friday!

Gotta Read,
Heather

P.S. - Here's a sneak peak: Click on Me!