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Monday, June 22, 2015

Writing for Children: Developing an Idea

I’m releasing a new book on the craft of writing, called You Can Write for Children: A Guide to Writing Great Stories, Articles, and Books for Kids and Teenagers. If you are just starting out, this book will get you going. If you have some experience but need help developing your skills, this book will do that as well. I focus on sharing insight and advice on writing well. You’ll find straightforward information and exercises you can do on your own.

In this book, you will learn:
  •  Opportunities for writing for children: Explore the wide variety of age ranges, genres, and styles, in both books and magazines.
  • How to find ideas.
  • How to develop an idea into a story, article, or book.
  • The basics of character development, plot, setting, and theme – and some advanced elements.
  • How to edit your work and get critiques.
  • Where to learn more on various subjects.
To celebrate the release, over the next three weeks I’ll be sharing an excerpt from one chapter on “Developing an Idea.” Here’s the first segment:

Ideas can grow from anywhere
Developing an Idea

People often ask writers, “Where do you find your ideas?” But for a writer, the more important question is, “What do I do with my idea?”

If you have a “great idea,” but can’t seem to go anywhere with it, you probably have a premise rather than a complete story plan. A story should have three parts: beginning, middle, and end. This can be a bit confusing though. Doesn’t every story have a beginning, middle, and end? Technically, yes, but certain things should happen at those points.

1.  The beginning introduces a character with a problem or a goal.

2.  During the middle of the story, that character tries to solve the problem or reach the goal. He probably fails a few times and has to try something else. Or he may make progress through several steps along the way. He should not solve the problem on the first try, however.

3.  At the end, the main character solves the problem himself or reaches his goal through his own efforts.

Thinking is not action
There may be exceptions to these standard story rules, but it’s best to stick with the basics until you know and understand them. They are standard because they work!

Teachers working with beginning writers often see stories with no conflict. The story is more of a “slice of life.” Things may happen, possibly even sweet or funny things, but the story does not seem to have a clear beginning, middle, and end; it lacks structure. Without conflict, the story is not that interesting.

You can have two basic types of conflict. An external conflict is something in the physical world. It could be a problem with another person, such as a bully at school, an annoying sibling, a criminal, or a fantastical being such as a troll or demon. External conflict would also include problems such as needing to travel a long distance in bad weather.

Conflict can be external
The other type of conflict is internal. This could be anything from fear of the dark to selfishness. It’s a problem within the main character that she has to overcome or come to terms with.

An internal conflict is often expressed in an external way. If a child is afraid of the dark, we need to see that fear in action. If she’s selfish, we need to see how selfishness is causing her problems. Note that the problems need to affect the child, not simply the adults around her. If a parent is annoyed or frustrated by a child’s behavior, that’s the parent’s problem, not child’s. The child’s goal may be the opposite of the parent’s; the child may want to stay the same, while the parent wants the child to change.

For stories with internal conflict, the main character may or may not solve the external problem. The child who is afraid of the dark might get over that fear, or she might learn to live with it by keeping a flashlight by her bed. The child who is selfish and doesn’t want to share his toys might fail to achieve that goal. Instead, he might learn the benefits of sharing.

The child should stay in charge of the story
However the problem is resolved, remember that the child main character should drive the solution. No adults stepping in to solve the problem! In the case where a child and a parent have different goals, it won’t be satisfying to young readers if the parent “wins” by punishing the child. The child must see the benefit of changing and make a decision to do so.


Next week, I'll share another way of looking at story structure, using four parts: situation, complications, climax, and resolution. You can get the whole essay now, and a lot more, in You Can Write for Children: A Guide to Writing Great Stories, Articles, and Books for Kids and Teenagers. The Kindle version is available for pre-order now and will be automatically delivered June 30. The print version should be available by next week.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Bandits Peak: for readers who enjoyed Gary Paulsen’s Hatchet

I'm happy to announce my latest novel for young people, Bandits Peak!

Danger in the Wilderness

While hiking in the mountains, Jesse meets a strange trio. He befriends Maria, but he’s suspicious of the men with her. Still, charmed by Maria, Jesse promises not to tell anyone that he met them. But his new friends have deadly secrets, and Jesse uncovers them. It will take all his wilderness skills, and all his courage, to survive.


Readers who enjoyed Gary Paulsen’s Hatchet will love Bandits Peak. This heart-pounding adventure tale is full of danger and excitement. Appropriate for ages 10 and up.

Read a sample of Bandits Peak on my website.
See Bandits Peak on Amazon.
Bandits Peak for Nook.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Happy New Year! Do you make New Year’s resolutions?

Happy New Year!

Do you make New Year’s resolutions? I have some problems with the concept of “resolutions” (mainly in the way it’s almost assumed that you’ll keep them for a week or two and then fail). However, I do think it’s a good idea to check-in with yourself a couple of times a year. Are you on the path you want to be on? Do you even know the path you want to be on? Do you have a plan with achievable, specific goals along the way?

We did several SCBWI schmoozes in Albuquerque on issues in the writing life. During one meeting, we explored the idea of success. Here are some notes. Consider getting together with your critique group, other writing friends, or your family, to share these goals and figure out ways to keep each other on track.

Defining Success

If you have only vague ideas of what “success” means for your writing career, spend some time defining what success means to you. Set specific, achievable goals. Preface your resolutions or goals with a phrase such as, “I’m going to make my very best effort to _____________.” Ask yourself:

  • What is my primary writing goal?

  • What are my secondary writing goals?

  • How can these goals work together? Do they contradict each other at all? Do they interfere with other career, family, or personal goals?

  • What steps do I need to take? Do I need to work on specific craft techniques, time management, market research, or submissions?

  • Which steps come first? How can I schedule the steps to reach my goals?

It's easy to set goals and then forget all about them, so find a way to check in regularly – put a pop-up notice on your computer calendar, make goals check-in a monthly part of your critique group meeting, or have a weekly online chat with friends where you check progress.

More help (these  are older posts, but the ideas are still valuable):

Goal Setting Without Fear, from Crime Fiction Collective, by Peg Brantley: “One of my favorite sayings is ‘It doesn’t matter where you start out. What matters is where you end up.’”

Kelly Bennett on defining what you want as a writer: “I defined for myself what being a successful writer meant. Not vague “I want to be somebody,” wishes, either….”

Luke Reynolds on Redefining Success: “Redefining success allows us to continue to focus on the work at hand rather than the result.”

A Writer’s HAPPY New Year, by Kristi Holl: “I am going through my goals list again. I am adding goals geared toward renewal.” (Kristi has a great inspirational blog on issues in the writing life, such as overcoming self-doubt.)

Make Your Own Luck, by Angela Ackerman: We tend to say, “If I could ____, then it would help me succeed. Whatever your blank is, instead of thinking that it’s too hard to do, or something out of your control, Make Your Own Luck.”

Writing and Life Balance, by Susan Uhlig: on Discipline, Setting Priorities, and managing Life and Volunteer Duties.

Did you make writing resolutions this year? Did this post inspire you to start? How are you going to make sure you stay on track?

Monday, December 15, 2014

Books for Lovers of Fantasy, Sci-Fi and Paranormal

I’m part of the group blog Project Mayhem: The Manic Minds of Middle Grade Writers, and in honor of the holiday shopping season, I wanted to celebrate some of my cohorts’ books – order a copy for your favorite middle grade reader, or for yourself! Here's the fourth (and final) part of the holiday shopping guide – Fantasy, Sci-Fi and Paranormal! Earlier posts covered Books for Fantasy Lovers, Historical Fiction, and Adventure Novels. See also my post on Write Better Next Year, with books on the craft of writing and resources for people who critique.

The links are to the author’s website or blog; if you want to buy, it might be faster to go to your favorite online retailer and paste in the name, or ask your local bookstore to order the book.

Eden Unger Bowditch’s The Young Inventors Guild series
The Atomic Weight of Secrets or The Arrival of the Mysterious Men in Black: In 1903, five truly brilliant young inventors, the children of the world’s most important scientists, went about their lives and their work as they always had. But all that changed the day the men in black arrived….

An amazing story about the wonders of science and the still greater wonders of friendship, The Atomic Weight of Secrets or The Mysterious Men in Black, the first book of the Young Inventors Guild trilogy, is a truly original novel. Young readers will forever treasure Eden Unger Bowditch’s funny, inventive, poignant, and wonderfully fun fiction debut.

See also: Book 2, The Ravens of Solemano

James Mihaley’s You Can’t Have My Planet, But Take My Brother, Please: Thirteen-year-old Giles is the last person anyone would expect to save the planet. He’s not as charming as his little sister, and not as brainy as his goody-goody older brother. But when Giles witnesses an alien realtor showing Earth to possible new tenants, he knows he’d better do something. With the help of an alien “attorney” and the maddest scientist in middle-grade fiction, Giles just might save humans from eviction from Earth. Let’s hope so. The alternatives are . . . not so hospitable.

James Mihaley’s You Can’t Have My Planet is “Imaginative” (Publishers Weekly) and “Action-packed” (BCCB).

Kell Andrews’s Deadwood: Seventh-grader Martin Cruz hates his rotten new town, Lower Brynwood, but with his mom fighting a war in Afghanistan, he has no other choice but to live with his crazy aunt. Then he gets a message from a tree telling him it’s cursed—and so is he…. Now the Spirit Tree is dying, and the other trees in the park are toppling around it like dominoes. The town is plagued with unexplainable accidents and people begin to fade, drained of life. Martin must team up with a know-it-all soccer star, Hannah Vaughan, if he has any chance of breaking the curse. If they fail to save the Spirit Tree, it could mean the destruction of Lower Brynwood and a permanent case of bad luck.

Dianne K. Salerni’s The Eighth Day: When Jax wakes up to a world without any people in it, he assumes it’s the zombie apocalypse. But when he runs into his eighteen-year-old guardian, Riley Pendare, he learns that he’s really in the eighth day—an extra day sandwiched between Wednesday and Thursday. Some people—like Jax and Riley—are Transitioners, able to live in all eight days, while others, including Evangeline, the elusive teenage girl who’s been hiding in the house next door, exist only on this special day. And there’s a reason Evangeline’s hiding. She is a descendant of the powerful wizard Merlin, and there is a group of people who wish to use her in order to destroy the normal seven-day world and all who live in it.

Chris Eboch’s Haunted Series
The Ghost on the Stairs: Jon doesn’t believe in ghosts. Not even if his mother does, and married a man who researches ghost sightings for his own TV show. Not even when they travel with the show, and visit “haunted” places. But his younger sister Tania claims she can see the ghosts. Deciding to believe her is just the first challenge. Softhearted Tania wants to help the ghosts. First the siblings have to find out what happened to keep each ghost trapped in this world. Then they have to help the ghosts move on—sometimes by letting them take over Tania’s body. All this while dealing with their overprotective mother, a stepfather who’d want to exploit Tania’s gift, and a changing assortment of human troublemakers.

Also in the series:
The Riverboat Phantom
The Knight in the Shadows
The Ghost Miner’s Treasure

Chris Eboch’s novels for ages nine and up include The Genie’s Gift; a middle eastern fantasy, The Eyes of Pharaoh, a mystery in ancient Egypt; The Well of Sacrifice, a Mayan adventure; and the Haunted series, which starts with The Ghost on the Stairs. In The Ghost Miner’s Treasure, a brother and sister help a ghostly miner find his long-lost mine. Her book Advanced Plotting helps writers fine-tune their plots. Learn more at www.chriseboch.com or her Amazon page.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Holiday Shopping Guide: Books for Adventure Lovers

I’m part of the group blog Project Mayhem: The Manic Minds of Middle Grade Writers, and in honor of the holiday shopping season, I wanted to celebrate some of my cohorts’ books – order a copy for your favorite middle grade reader, or for yourself! Today I'm posting adventure novels. See my last two posts for Books for Fantasy Lovers and Books for Lovers of Historical Fiction.

The links are to the author’s website or blog; if you want to buy, it might be faster to go to your favorite online retailer and paste in the name, or ask your local bookstore to order the book.


Dee Garretson’s Wildfire Run: The president’s retreat, Camp David, is one of the safest places in the United States. So why can’t the President’s son, Luke, and his friends Theo and Callie stay there without Secret Service agents constantly hovering over them, watching their every move? And yet, when an earthquake sets off a raging wildfire, causing a chain reaction that wreaks havoc at Camp David, they are suddenly on their own. Now Luke needs a plan:
  • To override the security systems
  • To save those who were supposed to save him
  • To get through an impassable gate
  • To escape Camp David
           
Dee Garretson’s Wolf Storm: This is Stefan’s big break. He’s on location in the mountains far from home for his first movie role, filming a blockbuster sci-fi adventure. The props, the spaceships, and the trained wolves on set should add up to a dream job, but acting turns out to be much tougher than he ever imagined, and he feels like his inner loser is all that’s showing through. And worst of all, no one will believe his claim that there are wild wolves haunting the forest around the set. When a blizzard strikes, isolating the young co-stars and bringing hungry feral wolves into the open, Stefan must take on his biggest role yet—working together with his co-stars to survive. With no second takes, they only have one chance to get it right.

Robert Lettrick’s Frenzy: 14-year-old Heath Lambert is spending his summer at Camp Harmony in the picturesque Cascade Mountain Valley…. But something’s wrong with the animals in the surrounding forest. A darkness is spreading, driving them mad with rage. Wolves, bears, mountain lions—even the chipmunks are infected, spurred on in droves by one horrific goal: hunt and kill every human they find. Heath and a ragtag band of campers are faced with a choice: follow Will’s lead and possibly survive, or follow the camp staff and die. But how do you trust a leader when you suspect he’s more dangerous than the animals you’re running from? Heath came to Camp Harmony to be surrounded by nature. He’s about to get his wish.

The Adventure Collection: Six Spellbinding Novels for Middle Grades, by Chris Eboch, Sybil Nelson, D.D. Roy, Sam Bond, Jennifer Bohnhoff, Courtney Vail, and Sandra J Howell. The Adventure Collection e-book set includes 6 fun books for middle grade readers. These novels include a search for ancient gold and a missing grandmother in the Peruvian jungle, a girl in Normandy during World War II trying to understand mysterious codes, genetically-enhanced assassins, travel across the terrain of the Arabian nights, wishes gone wrong, and rescue horses. Every book features a female heroine, or more than one.


Chris Eboch’s novels for ages nine and up include The Genie’s Gift; a middle eastern fantasy, The Eyes of Pharaoh, a mystery in ancient Egypt; The Well of Sacrifice, a Mayan adventure; and the Haunted series, which starts with The Ghost on the Stairs. In The Ghost Miner’s Treasure, a brother and sister help a ghostly miner find his long-lost mine. Her book Advanced Plotting helps writers fine-tune their plots. Learn more at www.chriseboch.com or her Amazon page

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Holiday Shopping Guide: Books for Lovers of Historical Fiction

I’m part of the group blog Project Mayhem: The Manic Minds of Middle Grade Writers, and in honor of the holiday shopping season, I wanted to celebrate some of my cohorts’ books – order a copy for your favorite middle grade reader, or for yourself! Today I'm looking at historical novels. You can visit Project Mayhem for PM’s Holiday Shopping Guide: Books for Fantasy Lovers and PM’s Holiday Shopping Guide: Books for Adventure Lovers.

The links are to the author’s website or blog; if you want to buy, it might be faster to go to your favorite online retailer and paste in the name, or ask your local bookstore to order the book. 

Caroline Starr Rose’s May B.: May is helping out on a neighbor’s homestead—just until Christmas, her pa promises. But when a terrible turn of events leaves her all alone, she must try to find food and fuel—and courage—to make it through the approaching winter.

This gorgeous novel in verse by Caroline Starr Rose will transport you to the Kansas prairie—to the endless grassland, and to the suffocating closeness of the sod house where May is stranded. May’s eloquent yet straightforward voice, and her bravery, determination, and willingness to risk it all will capture your heart.

Caroline’s book Blue Birds, set in 1587 in the colony of Roanoke, Virginia, is coming in March.

Dianne K. Salerni’s The Caged Graves (young adult): In Catawissa, the dead don’t always stay where you put them… 17-year-old Verity Boone expects a warm homecoming when she returns to Catawissa, Pennsylvania in 1867, pledged to marry a young man she’s never met. Instead, she finds a father she barely knows and a future husband with whom she apparently has nothing in common. And a truly horrifying surprise awaits her: the graves of her mother and aunt are enclosed in iron cages outside the local cemetery. Nobody in town will explain why, but Verity hears rumors of buried treasure and witchcraft. Perhaps the cages were built to keep grave robbers out . . . or to keep the women in. Determined to understand, Verity finds herself in a life-and-death struggle with people she thought she could trust.

Dianne K. Salerni’s We Hear the Dead (young adult): Spirits knock and tables tip for Maggie and Kate Fox, two teenage sisters who convince people they can talk to the dead with their mysterious rapping noises. What begins as a clever prank traps the girls in their lie as neighbors beg for the chance to receive messages from dead relatives. When their older sister Leah realizes the money-making potential of the scam, she takes them on the road to bamboozle newspaper editors, politicians, and the public at large. As their fame grows, each sister pursues a different goal. Maggie loves the attention. Leah seeks wealth and influence. Kate comes to believe in her own powers. Then Maggie meets Elisha Kane, a dashing and romantic Arctic explorer who offers her a chance to better herself — but only if she will turn on her sisters and give up spirit rapping forever. Caught between two worlds, Maggie must decide where her loyalties lie.

Chris Eboch’s The Eyes of Pharaoh: When Reya hints that Egypt is in danger from foreign nomads, Seshta and Horus don’t take him seriously. How could anyone challenge Egypt? Then Reya disappears. To save their friend, Seshta and Horus spy on merchants, soldiers, and royalty, and start to suspect even The Eyes of Pharaoh, the powerful head of the secret police. Will Seshta and Horus escape the traps set for them, rescue Reya, and stop the plot against Egypt in time?

The Eyes of Pharaoh, set in Egypt in 1177 BC, brings an ancient world to life

Chris Eboch’s The Well of Sacrifice: Eveningstar Macaw lives in a glorious Mayan city in the ninth century. When the king falls ill and dies, the city begins to crumble. An evil high priest, Great Skull Zero, orders the sacrifice of those who might become king, including Eveningstar’s beloved brother. Suspicious of the High Priest’s motives, Eveningstar attempts to save her brother, thus becoming the High Priest’s enemy. Condemned to be thrown into the Well of Sacrifice, Eveningstar must find a way not only to save her own life but to rescue her family and her city from the tyrannical grasp of Great Skull Zero.

“[An] engrossing first novel….Eboch crafts an exciting narrative with a richly textured depiction of ancient Mayan society….The novel shines not only for a faithful recreation of an unfamiliar, ancient world, but also for the introduction of a brave, likable and determined heroine.” - Kirkus Reviews


Chris Eboch’s novels for ages nine and up include The Genie’s Gift; a middle eastern fantasy, The Eyes of Pharaoh, a mystery in ancient Egypt; The Well of Sacrifice, a Mayan adventure; and the Haunted series, which starts with The Ghost on the Stairs. In The Ghost Miner’s Treasure, a brother and sister help a ghostly miner find his long-lost mine. Her book Advanced Plotting helps writers fine-tune their plots. Learn more at www.chriseboch.com or her Amazon page.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Holiday Shopping Guide: Books for Fantasy Lovers

I’m part of the group blog Project Mayhem: The Manic Minds of Middle Grade Writers, and in honor of the holiday shopping season, I wanted to celebrate some of my cohorts’ books – order a copy for your favorite middle grade reader, or for yourself! The links are to the author’s website or blog; if you want to buy, it might be faster to go to your favorite online retailer and paste in the name, or ask your local bookstore to order the book.

I’m starting with some fantasy novels that involve alternate worlds. Over the next couple of weeks, I’ll be listing books in the categories of Historical Fiction, Adventure Novels, and Fantasy (our world), Sci-Fi and Paranormal.


Hilary Wagner’s Nightshade Chronicles
Nightshade City: Book One: Deep beneath a modern metropolis lies the Catacombs, a kingdom of remarkable rats of superior intellect, ruled by decadent High Minister Killdeer and his vicious henchman Billycan, a former lab rat with a fondness for butchery. Three young orphan rats—brothers Vincent and Victor and a clever female named Clover—join forces with Billycan’s archenemy, Juniper, and his maverick band of rebel rats as they plot to overthrow their oppressors and create a new city—Nightshade City.

“Fast paced and full of intrigue. One fantasy lovers won’t want to miss.” – Kirkus Reviews

Also in the series:
The White Assassin
Lords of Trillium
Catacomb City

Marissa Burt’s Storybound: In our world, twelve-year-old Una Fairchild has always felt invisible. But all that changes when she stumbles upon a mysterious book buried deep in the basement of her school library, opens the cover, and suddenly finds herself transported to the magical land of Story. But Story is not a perfect fairy tale. Una’s new friend Peter warns her about the grave danger she could face if anyone discovers her true identity. The devious Tale Keeper watches her every move. And there are whispers of a deadly secret that seems to revolve around Una herself….

Storybound has been praised by Kirkus Reviews for its “richly imagined world” and by Publishers Weekly as “an appealing fantasy with strong writing and interesting characters.” 

See also: Story’s End

Dawn Lairamore’s Ivy’s Ever After: The kingdom of Ardendale has always locked its princesses in a white tower guarded by a dragon. It’s the only way to lure gallant young princes to the tiny, out-of-the-way kingdom to marry them. But Ivy is a princess who doesn’t care to be rescued, and Elridge a dragon afraid of being slain. Never mind that humans and dragons have loathed each other for centuries, it isn’t long before this feisty princess and rather undragonly dragon have fled the tower and set off on a perilous journey….

A Bank Street Best Children’s Book of the Year, 2011

* “This is a fun and entertaining fairy-tale based fantasy with a nice balance of character development and action.” –School Library Journal (starred review)

See also: Ivy and the Meanstalk

Chris Eboch’s The Genie’s Gift: Shy and timid Anise determines to find the Genie Shakayak and claim the Gift of Sweet Speech. But the way is barred by a series of challenges, both ordinary and magical. How will Anise get past a vicious she-ghoul, a sorceress who turns people to stone, and mysterious sea monsters, when she can’t even speak in front of strangers?

The Genie’s Gift is a lighthearted action novel set in the fifteenth-century Middle East, drawing on the mythology of The Arabian Nights

Chris Eboch’s novels for ages nine and up include The Genie’s Gift; a middle eastern fantasy, The Eyes of Pharaoh, a mystery in ancient Egypt; The Well of Sacrifice, a Mayan adventure; and the Haunted series, which starts with The Ghost on the Stairs. In The Ghost Miner’s Treasure, a brother and sister help a ghostly miner find his long-lost mine. Her book Advanced Plotting helps writers fine-tune their plots. Learn more at www.chriseboch.com or her Amazon page.