Friday, September 23, 2016

Saving Story Seeds

I’m writing this on the last day of summer. Sheets are drying on the line, the day’s petering-out raspberries have been picked, and nasturtium seeds have been collected from their scattered positions on the back deck. And now, it’s tea and words time…but my thoughts keep going back to those seeds.

I’ve never saved seeds before. I had to Google what to do with them to make sure they’ll be in good condition to sprout next year.
  1. dry them
  2. discard any mouldy ones
  3. store in an air-tight container in a cool place
  4. plant in the spring
Seems easy enough, right? Well, I’ll let you know in May, haha. But to be honest, the writer-me is much more concerned about seeds of a different sort, so if you’ll allow me a stretched-to-fit analogy, let’s chat for a minute about story seeds--not full-fledged story ideas, but precious fragments that find their way into your stories to make them rich, colorful, complete.

Do you collect story seeds? Do you take care to preserve them in such a way as to allow them to sprout and blossom when the time is right? How can we do that? Here’s my handy-dandy guide to making the most of story seeds... ;-)

  1. recognize them – All those little things that grab your attention or evoke strong emotions in you…the particular slant of light on the mountains, the expression on a child’s face when his mom yells at the sales clerk, the image of a goat munching happily on the sod roof of the Coombs Market (yes, that’s a thing), a failure of the justice system, a lone detail from a news story about immigrants, the taste of root beer candy, the heart twinge you feel at the memory of a loved one you still mourn. All these things that you notice, that you tell your spouse or best friend about, that get you riled up, or that send you into the stacks to research—recognize these as story seeds.
  2. don’t discard any mouldy ones – Your inner editor says they’re nothing? they’re not worth saving? Ignore him! If it warranted your attention or emotion for a time, it’s worth saving, no matter how dumb or trivial or "mouldy" it may seem. Maybe you’ll use it someday, and maybe you won’t, but if you turf it now, well…you’ll never know what story it may have been perfect for.
  3. store in a safe place – I like to jot story seeds longhand in a journal, but you could do a Word file (that you backup regularly, just like all your other documents, right?), or a private Pinterest board, or a shoebox of scraps and coffee shop napkins and pictures discreetly torn from magazines in the doctor’s waiting room. You could capture story seeds on your phone with the camera and voice recorder and memo apps. Whatever works. Just store those seeds where they won’t be lost. 
  4. plant them – Sift through them from time to time and see if any leap out at you, if any whisper (or shout) that they belong in the story that’s currently brewing. Don’t worry if the ones that call to you don’t seem to go together, because maybe they’ll end up blossoming in the most magical way. (If not, they can go back into storage for a while, perhaps to be planted in the next, next story.) And finally, don’t be afraid to use them up…because you’re always collecting more story seeds, right? 

Are you a story-seed saver? Have you got any tips that help you make the most of story seeds?

Monday, September 19, 2016

Self Discovery

I don't know about anyone else, but I learn something about myself every time I write a new manuscript. I'm not just talking about the skills and how much my writing has improved, but about the discovery deep in my core, those things I learn about who I am as a person.

Rewind to the first manuscript I ever wrote. That manuscript was me. Just about everything in it related back to me in some way. The main character was me in just about every sense. She looked like me, acted like me, and even had family members like mine. They always say write what you know and oh I did. That said, I never finished that manuscript. And while I learned a lot of what not to do when writing, I didn't learn much about myself, except that I had ideas and I wanted to play with story structure and characters.

But the further I got into writing, the more and more I learned. By the time I started my second manuscript I had ideas... lots of them. They were taking over at every turn. But somewhere in the middle, despite having a clear path for my story the doubt crept in. Was I any good? Was I wasting my time? Maybe I should just quit. So I sought out feedback and validation. And the comments weren't all fantastic, in fact many weren't great but in the feedback I also found encouragement and that people liked my ideas. And with that tiny bit of support, I finished my manuscript. And for the first time, I realized I could do something I never thought I could. Write a book.

By the time I got to manuscript three it wasn't a question of if I could finish but when and how good I could make it with all my new found knowledge and confidence. But the discovery within that manuscript was something unexpected. Despite my best efforts to branch out to something new, a comment by a critique partner led me right back to myself. She noted that a particular character was having an emotional response that didn't seem to match the rest of the story. And in that moment I realized I'd baked my entire emotional range into that character and I hadn't even realized it. And in understanding that connection, I learned so much more about how I react to things and why those reactions are the way they are.

But the self discovery didn't end there. While querying manuscript three, I worked on a fourth. I struggled with it. The words came out choppy and many times didn't come at all. And when I finally beat the ending words out, I understood why I had struggled so much to write this story. The story itself was about self discovery, about understanding who you are and accepting it despite what others might think. And that very thing was what I had been struggling with in my own life. And once I finally owned everything about myself and became proud of it, the story and my struggle to write it made perfect sense.

Now as I revise my fourth manuscript, I've just barely begun my fifth. I'm not sure what journey this manuscript will take me on, but I'm excited to find out what new things I'll discover about myself while writing this new story. What adventure am I about to embark on? I'm not sure, but it's guaranteed to be something enlightening.

So after all this self discovery it got me wondering. Do other people have similar experiences when they write? What things have you learned about yourself in your writing? How has your writing changed you?

Monday, September 12, 2016

Author Interview: Wade Albert White, Author of The Adventurer's Guide to Successful Escapes

One of my most anticipated middle grade books of 2016 is coming out tomorrow!

I had the opportunity to read this book several months ago and I adored it!  This is a witty, subversive, clever book, and I see so many middle grade readers gobbling this up and asking for more (which thankfully we will get!)

Here's the description:

A thrilling debut novel where fantasy and science fiction meet, dragons aren't as innocent as they look, and nothing is quite what is seems.

Anne has spent most of her thirteen years dreaming of the day she and her best friend Penelope will finally leave Saint Lupin's Institute for the Perpectually Wicked and Hideously Unattractive Children. When the big day arrives, a series of very curious happenings lead to Anne being charged with an epic quest. Anne, Penelope, and new questing partner Hiro have only days to travel to strange new locales, solve myriad riddles, and triumph over monstrous foes--or face the horrible consequences.

Then Adventurer's Guide to Successful Escaptes (Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, September 13, 2016) is written by Wade Albert White.

His Biography: 

Wade hails from Nova Scotia, Canada, land of wild blueberries and Duck Tolling Retrievers. He teaches part-time, dabbles in animation, and spends the rest of his time as a stay-at-home dad. It is also possible he has set a new record as the slowest 10K runner. Ever. He owns one pretend cat and one real one, and they get along famously.

Recently, I harassed the good-natured Wade into answering a few questions for me:

I started laughing on page one of The Adventurer's Guide to Successful Escapes and didn't stop laughing until the last page. So my very first question is: Were you the class clown? And it's corollary: Monty Python, SCTV, or Saturday Night Live?

First of all, I’m so glad you enjoyed it! That’s always wonderful to hear. As for being the class clown, I’d have to say not really—although I did once convince a number of my elementary school cohorts (in Grade 5 or 6, I think) to throw some paper airplanes during class so I could photograph the teacher’s reaction (it was for a school project! honest! Also, my apologies again to everyone who got detention!). Maybe that makes me more of an evil mastermind? Not sure. As for the second part, while I have enjoyed all three, there’s no denying British comedy has been a major influence on me.

There is a proud history in children's literature of witty, clever tales. Who were some of your literary heroes growing up?

The first that leaps to mind is the Canadian classic Anne of Green Gables, a book full to the brim with good humor and an engaging main character. I also remember enjoying the cleverness in certain older classics like Alice's Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll. And who could forget the fantastic Ralph S. Mouse in The Mouse and the Motorcycle by Beverly Cleary.

At the beginning of the book, we realize that Annie is very clever, but Penelope, not so much. She kind of reveals herself to us over time. Can you talk about how you developed these two girls into such well-rounded characters?

When I’m writing characters, I try to think about both their inner and their outer conflicts.

Inner conflicts make a character more complex and multi-dimensional. They might really desire to make a certain choice, but their sense of duty (or fear of another person’s reaction, or simply feeling they have no other options) might compel them to make a different choice instead. That sort of inner turmoil can add a lot of depth. So in the case of Anne, for example, she sneaks into the library to find books to read even though it’s against the rules. She knows if she gets caught there will be consequences, but she also feels strongly that she and her friends have a right to this knowledge that’s being arbitrarily withheld from them.

Outer conflict makes for a more interesting mix of characters—and here I don’t just mean conflict between heroes and villains. I like bringing together a group who might work towards a common goal yet have very different ideas about how to go about it. This creates a lot of interpersonal tension and keeps things interesting. So for example, Penelope usually prefers to dive headfirst into a situation, whereas Anne (and even more so their other friend, Hiro) feels there’s merit in taking a moment to think things through first.

There's a quest in the book (and who doesn't love a quest?) but it's not like your typical quest and it requires the reader to really think in places. Was it difficult to decide how to manage the quest and develop Anne's tests?

It did require a bit of back and forth, mostly in getting the exact wording of the quest just right (which, as readers will see, the wording is essential). One of Anne’s primary traits, though, is her keen intellect, so I never worried about making the quest too difficult for her. Perhaps the most difficult part was making sure the quest flowed logically and that at each point along the way there was a solid reason for Anne and her friends to move onto to the next part (that is, for them to want to continue forward by choice, not simply because that’s where the story needed them to go next). I tend to write and edit in layers, and it definitely took multiple passes before everything came together.

There are definite nods to Sci-Fi here, but a kid doesn't need to be familiar with the genre to get it. Are you a big Sci-Fi fan? Recommendations for our readers as to other books a kid who now wants to read Sci-Fi could read next while they wait for your next book?

I enjoy science fiction and fantasy equally. For middle grade readers in search of a good science fiction story, I would recommend The Boy at the End of the World by Greg van Eekhout, Time-Traveling with a Hamster by Ross Welford, Bounders by Monica Tesler, and The Fog Diver and The Lost Compass by Joel Ross.

Like me, you live in Atlantic Canada, which is a LOONG way from New York City! Can you share how you went about acquiring an agent and how long from then until your deal with LB Kids?

After researching the publishing landscape, I decided I wanted to try to break into the American market, and thus it made sense to try to find a literary agent based in the US. Once I had polished the book to the absolute best of my ability, I began my search, and it took about nine months to sign with my agent (during which time I did two more rounds of editing based on feedback I received while querying). We did yet another round of editing, and then it was deemed ready to submit to publishers. I was extremely fortunate at that point in the process, because once my agent did send the book out to various editors the deal part happened very quickly.

What's the most surprising thing that you've experienced on the road to publication?

Probably the aspect of publishing that has surprised me the most is just how much non-writing work is involved. It’s not that I didn’t know this going in, but like always it’s one thing to hear about it and quite another to be doing it. It makes purposefully carving out actual writing time all the more essential, because one’s inbox fills up quickly. Perhaps the second biggest surprise was just how many times I would reread my own book during the editing process (for those who are curious, I’m pretty sure the answer is somewhere north of a bajillion).

This is the beginning of a series. Did the book sell as a series or was that decided mid-way through the process? How soon till we get to read book #2?

The contract I signed was for two books, and Little Brown expressed interest in the project as a series from the very beginning. In fact, I have just recently finished the second draft of Book 2, so it’s well on its way. The tentative release date for that book is September 2017, roughly one year after the release of the first volume. The working title is The Adventurer’s Guide to Dragons (And Why They Keep Biting Me).

Last question: I knew as soon as I read this book that this was something special; that mix of great story, great characters and spectacular, hilarious writing that makes it a hit with kids and the gatekeepers in their lives: parents, teachers, librarians. So inquiring minds want to know: what have you got planned for September 13th and have you figured out yet how you'll handle all the accolades?????

Again, you’re very kind (I might be blushing now as I type)! The book’s launch party is set for the release day (September 13th) and is taking place at the Box of Delights bookstore in Wolfville, Nova Scotia (7-8pm). It’s open to the public, and all readers both young and old are welcome to attend. Beyond that, requests for appearances are starting to roll in, so it looks like I’ll be doing a little bit of travelling this fall to meet readers and help promote the book.

Thanks for the great interview, Wade!
Here's where you can find Wade's book:

Friday, September 9, 2016

Awesome Author Interview: Christina Soontornvat!

For today's post it is my supreme honor to interview Christina Soontornvat, author of the mesmerizing MG fantasy debut THE CHANGELINGS (which just came out earlier this week!). I met Christina earlier this year at a book event in Texas, and was lucky enough to snag an advanced copy of her book. I read it aloud to my six year old, and we both were absolutely enthralled by it. Here's the official book summary:

All Izzy wants is for something interesting to happen in her sleepy little town. But her wish becomes all too real when a mysterious song floats through the woods and lures her little sister Hen into the forest...where she vanishes. A frantic search leads to a strange hole in the ground that Izzy enters. But on the other side, she discovers that the hole was not a hole, this place is not Earth, and Hen is not lost. She's been stolen away to the land of Faerie, and it's up to Izzy to bring her home.

But inside Faerie, trouble is brewing-and Izzy is in way over her head. A ragtag group of outlaw Changelings offer to help, but she must decide whether a boulder that comes to life, a girl who looks like a ghost, and a boy who is also a stag can help her save Hen before it's too late.

Sounds great, right? Well, it is! Here are some links so you can get your hands on a copy:

DG: So, first off, I absolutely loved THE CHANGELINGS. I read it aloud to my daughter and she pronounced it her "most favorite book ever." Bravo! Could you share with us a little about where the idea for this story came from?

CS: You can’t imagine how happy it makes me to hear that your daughter liked the book! Up until now THE CHANGELINGS has been read by a lot of adults, but not many children. It is amazing to finally be at the point where the book is getting into kids’ hands. They are the audience I wrote it for!

So when I first started writing this story down I never imagined it would actually become a book. It began as a story for my nieces, whom I met for the first time when they were living in Ireland. Ireland is a fairly magical place and it’s not difficult to imagine the boundaries between our world and the world of fairies getting a little fluid over there.

At Christmas I started telling them the story of a younger sister who gets kidnapped by fairies, and an older sister who has to rescue her. They loved it and begged me to keep going. We live far away from each other, so the only way to keep up the story was to send it to them in the mail. I would write ten pages and send it off in a letter about once a week. I didn’t realize it at the time, but I was drafting a novel!

My nieces still have a binder full of those original letters. The book has changed so much since that first draft, but the original heart of the story is still there.

DG: THE CHANGELINGS is your debut novel...congrats! Tell us a little about your path to publication. Was it a long journey or an overnight dream come true?

CS: Oh my goodness, is there a such thing as the overnight dream come true? If so, I hate those people (just kidding, but not really!). Actually, I’m pretty lucky that my path to publication – from the first word I wrote to having a real book on the shelves – only took about eight years.

I won’t go into all the details because they are pretty typical of what most authors experience. I’ll sum up my publishing journey like this:

  1. Wrote the novel. Revised.
  2. Got it critiqued. Revised.
  3. Queried agents. Got rejected. Revised.
  4. Queried again. Offered representation. Revised.
  5. Went on submission. Got rejected. Revised.
  6. Went on submission.
  7. Sold the book!
  8. Revised.

In other words, lots of rejection over the years and lots of revisions. I don’t know if there is any way to get around that part of the process, unfortunately. I do remember hearing MG author, Donna Gephardt, once say that the one trait common to all published authors is the willingness to dig deep and do the hard work of revision. That has certainly been true in my case.  

DG: THE CHANGELINGS feels like a story that's rooted firmly (and beautifully) in the wonder of childhood. Were you a bookworm as a kid? What were some of your favorite books?

CS: Such a bookworm! My parents owned a Thai/Chinese restaurant when I was growing up and I spent most of my life sitting behind the counter or in the supply closet with a book in my hands. I read anything, but I definitely gravitated toward books that took me as far away from reality as possible. I read all the Narnia books, lots of Roald Dahl and Tolkein. I also read a lot of picture books, particularly fairytale retellings. And I went through a period of about two years where I only read Calvin and Hobbes (the comic, not the philosophers!)

DG: Middle grade literature is a such a rich, wonderful market. What made you decide to write middle grade?

CS: My middle grade years were a bit tumultuous. During that time reading was what helped me feel grounded. I try to write stories that I would have loved as a kid: adventure stories full of danger and magic. I think that when you get lost in a book it can help you find your way in the real world. At least that was the case for me. Another thing I absolutely love in MG lit is how fiercely friendships are felt. At that age, your friends are the loves of your life. Creating those relationships between my characters is one of my favorite things about writing MG.

DG: For your day job you work in science education and you have a science background, but this story is an out-of-this-world fantasy, full of magic and whimsy. What gives? Does your science background inform and strengthen your fantasy, or is your fantasy an escape from your scientific day job?

CS: As far as content goes, my science background hasn’t had much of an impact on my writing. But when it comes to process there is a lot of overlap. I studied mechanical engineering in college. The number one thing you learn as an engineer is the “Engineering Design Process”, which basically boils down to:

  1. Make something.
  2. Test it out.
  3. If it doesn’t meet your criteria, go back and fix it until it does.

Hmm, does that sound familiar, fellow writers? When I was confronted with revising my novel again and again (see Question #2), it felt a lot like engineering. You just have to keep going until you get it right!  

DG: What advice would you give to an aspiring middle grade writer?

CS: Aside from “Keep writing, keep writing, keep writing”? I’ll share something I figured out only recently. We all hear the advice “Read widely in your genre”, and I totally believe that is true. You should definitely be up to snuff on the books that are getting published right now for your target readership. When I first started getting serious about publishing my book I only read MG fantasy published in the last decade. I read some really jaw-dropping, amazing books. I read some books that were good, but not my favorites. And I read a lot of books that people told me I “should” read.

During that time, I quit reading adult books because I didn’t have enough time to squeeze them in. And then I picked up The Family Fang, by Kevin Wilson, which is the complete opposite of anything I’m writing or plan to write. I read it in one sleepless, maniacal sitting. And afterwards I felt so filled up and recharged – not because I learned anything immediately useful for my own writing – but because I just needed to get swept away by something. It felt so good to get lost in a book and just be a plain, old reader again.

My advice is do read in the genre and age range you are writing for. But definitely read books that sweep you off your feet, no matter what they are. Life is too short to do otherwise!  

DG: Finally, a question from my daughter. She is dying to know what happens next to Izzy and the Faerie you have a follow-up book in the works? Any other projects on your horizon?

CS: Tell your daughter that Izzy gets some more adventures! I just turned in the sequel to my editor – like, um, yesterday. And I also just started a new MG fantasy novel. It is set in a city along a river, sort of an alternate Bangkok, Thailand. It tells the story of a boy who escapes the jail he was born in and has to hide out in a temple. The warden’s daughter is onto him though and if she finds him, he’ll go back to prison forever. MG adventure/fantasy seems to be all that will come out of my brain at the moment!

Monday, September 5, 2016

What makes a great Middle Grade Character?: The Back to School Bookshelf Tour!

Friends, Romans, Lovers of Middle Grade! We've got something special today.

 I'm extraordinarily lucky to be included in a group of MG writers all publishing this Fall and they're  paying us a visit to share their thoughts on a pretty important question:

What makes a great Middle Grade character?

Let's see what they have to say!

Kathleen Burkinshaw, author of The Last Cherry Blossom

I think that a great MG character has to have some vulnerability, but still willing to try something a tad bit outrageous to go after what they want. I think part of a MG Character is still trying to figure out where they fit in, sometimes who their friends really are.  When something they fear happens, a great MG character finds an inner strength to either ask a friend to help them or to handle it on their own. I also really like to have some humor in MG characters, even when the book is about a serious subject.

Casey Lyall author of Howard Walace, P.I.

I think a great middle grade character is someone who finds their truth. To me, the middle grade years are all about self-discovery. Finding your voice. Expanding your world view. Learning that adults aren’t always right and that they can make mistakes. Knocking down pedestals and building your own foundation.

There’s turmoil and excitement and the chance to stretch your boundaries. It’s a time to look inside yourself and see what makes you tick. To figure out who you are and where you fit in. It doesn’t matter if the story takes place in space or a little house in the country. If the character cracks jokes or keeps to the sidelines.

I’m happy if by the time the last page comes along, they’ve found that tiny nugget of truth inside themselves. A bit of absolute that, even when life roars by outside, holds fast and says “This is me.” That’s a great middle grade character in my book.

Jennie K. Brown, author of Poppy Mayberry, The Monday

Gosh – this is a tough one. When I hear this question, my mind immediately goes to my favorite middle grade characters – Harriet the Spy, any of the babysitter club girls, Harry Potter, Nancy Drew, Serafina (from Serafina and the Black Cloak) and so many more. As I look at my favorites, I see they have a few things in common. First, I think readers can often connect to these characters because they aren't perfect. Most middle grade readers like to have adventures, and so do those characters. That being said, for me, a good middle grade character is one that readers can relate with, one that has flaws, and one that isn’t afraid of a good adventure!

Wade Albert White, author of The Adventurer's Guide to Successful Escapes
I think one thing that makes a great middle grade character is passion. Not necessarily the type that leads to kissing (move along, YA people, nothing to see here), but passion in the sense that the character is passionate about something—whether it’s proving that aliens exist, or deciding to learn one ancient language for every year old they are, or simply creating the world’s largest wad of used chewing gum. They’re intent on reaching a specific goal, and they’re not going to let anything get in their way (and they’re not going to believe any adults who tell them it’s impossible, because we all know adults are overly concerned with things like rules and safety and not blowing up the universe—they just don’t get it!). These characters have drive and a sense of purpose and believe anything can be achieved if they just keep moving forward and putting one foot in front of the other. That doesn’t mean they don’t fail. Often they do. But then they dig deep and find it within themselves the will to keeping going. That makes for a character anyone would want to read about.

Bridget Hodder, author of The Rat Prince

Middle Grade greatness can come from any number of things!

I love characters with unusual perspectives or experiences, who are rendered with a sure sense of "voice" that makes them come alive. A couple of very different characters who became real for me in this way are Claudia from E.L. Konigsburg's classic FROM THE MIXED-UP FILES OF MRS. BASIL E. FRANKELWEILER, and Manami from Lois Sepahban's recent PAPER WISHES.

As a writer, I feel I'm doing well when my characters speak and act for themselves at a level that turns me into their recording angel, rather than their puppeteer. Great characters drive the plot and allow the story to make deep sense; it simply can't happen the other way around. If you're finding that you need to manipulate your characters in order to fit into your pre-designed narrative...time to re-think!

Sarah S. Reida author of Monsterville

It's all about voice, and that comes down to being able to read a book and hear the character speak in your head. The voice needs to be distinctive, consistent, and it needs to use words appropriate for the age group. (Think of every "adult" word as a speed bump). If you know a ten to twelve-year-old who can read your book and flag words they'd never say, take advantage of it - they might end up being one of your most valuable beta readers. 

Mike Grosso, author of I Am Drums

A great middle grade character is someone who authentically speaks like someone their age instead of like an adult posing as one. Middle grade readers are pretty blunt when they don't buy into a story, and will abruptly put down a book if it doesn't speak to them. Middle grade characters have to form a connection with the reader either by showing them an identifiable part of themselves or something that creates immediate empathy.

Erin Petti, author of The Peculiar Haunting of Thelma Bee

Oh hey, hi! It's me, your blogger!

I agree with so much that's been said here, and I'm wishing that we were all able to have this discussion in some coffee shop someplace. In my opinion, I think that one of the most important elements in a great character is authenticity. They can go to Mars, or live in Queens, or work as a blacksmith's apprentice in the year 1400 - but as long as their emotions are true, you're going to have a great character. I don't think they always need to know what they are doing, and maybe it's better if sometimes they don't. But they need to own themselves and their own feelings. I'm just the writer, I'm not the boss. 

Thank you to Kathleen, Casey, Jennie, Wade, Bridget, Sarah, and Mike!

Please feel free to share your thoughts in the comments section and join us on September 28th at 8pm for our Twitter party #BTSBookshelfTour!!
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Friday, September 2, 2016

My Great and Powerful Comment Box Moment of Oz

A great writer once said, “As writers for children, we have a responsibility to uphold.”

*steps aside as villions claim responsibility for this quote*

But only one said it at a specific conference, and only one said it to me when they critiqued an old sci-fi manuscript of mine. 

Now, this story was my Big #2. Which shall be known hereafter as The One, not to be confused with the actual “#1”-- which was the book of my heart, filled with telling and info dumps galore. *sighs*

No, this was my Big #2.

Which had to be The One, right? The One that’d get me in that contest. Land me that agent.

It wasn’t.

Well, for godsake, it didn’t even have an accurate number. How could it be?

But seriously, all #2 potty jokes aside, this particular comment box on an alien sub-plot got me to thinking...just because it’s made up, does it make it right?

I’m referring to characters doing bad things. Or planning to do bad things. Or even being perceived as something bad.

You see, in this book—on another world—with beings from another time and space—I left some little ones in the care of two teenaged alien beings. 

In my mind, I’d created these mature characters with highly responsible traits and personalities. I didn't think twice about entrusting them with a younger species. I left them with all the food, technology and medical tools, and every supply they'd need for generations to come. They'd all be set for life.

So, my great alien guys were perfectly responsible for these little ones’ upbringing.

But were they?

At that time, I would’ve said sure, why not. Aliens are people too. Sorta. But today, I’d be more...

Curious to your thoughts.

When we create scenarios, even in the wildest of fantasy worlds, there’s still an underlying morality that folds into the story line. Am I right?

So what if Crockafarmers have been shooting little Fiffyfoamers for generations. Who cares if Roaminy Roodles are mean to Clickity Clackers.

But kids will.

And they do.

Hell, I already feel bad for those poor Fiffyfoamers and Clickity Clackers. Don’t you?

Roaminy Roodles have feelings. And so do kids.

This crit was done loooooong ago (Okay, just three years ago, but in Fiffyfoamer years it’s like forever). And this critiquer was a wizard editor. Probably still wears a long divider cape at home. There were so many things to learn from the other comment boxes. One, of course, was that I spelled forrest wrong, but I’ll always do that, so...

But that one particular comment track box about responsibility rang true for me. Even for stories outside of the box. Even in the wildest of worlds, I believe we have to be mindful of how kids could potentially ingest the words and stories we tell. I mean, if someone talks to me in a southern accent, I have to bite my tongue not to talk in a southern accent back.

It’s a real problem...y’all.


See now, if that’s how spongey I am. Imagine a kid?

At the time, I just saw my story as: Made Up, Not a Real World, Not Real People, and Not Real Circumstances. But our characters all become real to our readers. And a story can be received in very real ways. 

Every story I’ve written since has been compassed by this little comment bubble hanging over my head. And I believe it always will. 

This is just one of my personal aha-comment box moments. I’m sure I’ll have more ahead of me. But this one, I’ll never forget. I wonder if another critiquer would’ve spotted that particular subplot and called me out on it? Maybe, maybe not. You never know which comment will hit home or change a writer or their story for the better. For everyone.

Yes, it’s a big subjective world out there. But just ‘cause it’s made up, doesn’t make it right.



...What number was that book?