MINI-VIEWS: Pint-sized interviews that leave you smiling.
R. L. (ROBIN) LA FEVERS has taught plotting workshops for the SB/Ventura SCBWI Region and is on the faculty of the Santa Barbara Writer’s Conference. Her current book, THEODOSIA AND THE SERPENTS OF CHAOS, was published by Houghton Mifflin in April of 2007 and was a Junior Library Guild selection, Summer Booksense Pick, and has been nominated for an Agatha Award. Theodosia and the Staff of Osiris will be out in November of 2008.
Last year I had the pleasure of attending one of Robin’s plot workshops—her insight and writing advice was tremendously helpful. While she is probably too modest to mention all of her many credentials, I must add that Robin is also a contributor to one of my favorite blogs, Shrinking Violets Promotions.
With the immense popularity of fantasy in recent years (resulting in so many published fantasy titles), how do you make your story unique enough to stand out amongst the rest? I think there are a couple of answers to this first question. The first is to create vivid characters the reader can’t help but bond with and care for. This is one critical element that can be easily overlooked in fantasy because writers get so involved in constructing their world and the bells and whistles of their magic systems that the characters can get lost. So first, create vivid empathetic characters.
The second thing would be to utilize an under-explored mythos as the basis for your fantasy. The thing is, there are so many fascinating jumping off points for fantasy worlds, and they don’t all have to be wizards or witches or vampires or fairies. However, if you simply have to use one of those, consider completely re-inventing or re-imagining it or adding something new and fresh that help make your version of that fantasy world stand out.
What would you say is the most important aspect of developing a plot?
Hm. I’m going to cheat a little and say there are two critically important aspects of developing a plot. One, it has to be developed organically from your unique character—meaning, it has to grow out of that character’s own unique quirks and weaknesses and strengths. I firmly believe that character IS plot, so how you develop that character will determine that plot. An example would be a kid who chose to retaliate against a bully in a passive aggressive way versus an out and out confrontation. Two very different approaches from two very different types of people, each would lead to a distinctly different plot.
The second, and I would say equally important aspect of developing a plot, is to make sure the conflict is big enough to sustain a novel (or whatever length project you’re writing.) It can be a more subtle, internal-type conflict or a big external conflict (although ideally books should have a little of both) but it needs to matter enough to the characters that it’s able to drive the narrative to its climax and resolution. Many of my early (deservedly unpublished!) books—and so many manuscripts I read for critique—peter out about one third of the way through because the conflict doesn’t truly test the very core of the main character. So really examine the main conflict of the book and make sure it’s compelling and enough of a driving force to keep the reader turning the page until the very end.
What is your favorite children's joke? This is so embarrassing because I’ve never been much of a joke teller and my absolutely favorite joke when I was a kid was: What’s black and white and red all over? Of course, the answer was a newspaper, but as we got a little older and a little sillier, we had obnoxious fun with made up variations—a bloody zebra!—and worse, but I’ll spare you those.
Shamrock Find a shamrock, green and bright. God be with you day and night.
People often confuse the shamrock with the four-leaf clover. While the four-leaf clover symbolizes good luck, Irish legend says that St. Patrick used the shamrock to demonstrate the principle behind the Trinity (an important doctrine in Christianity), therefore shamrocks have more significance as a religious symbol than a symbol of good luck.
The Blarney Kiss I always kiss me parents, I even kiss me sis—Eeew! I kiss me Great Aunt Erin, And Uncle Patrick too. But of all the kisses I’ve given including those I’ve blown, The kiss I like to give the most is the one on the Blarney Stone.
The Blarney Stone is an actual piece of stone in the Blarney Castle, near Cork, Ireland. According to legend, those who kiss the stone are blessed with eloquence, meaning they become skilled at flattery.
A St. Patty’s Day Fib Green Shamrocks Leprechauns Kiss the Blarney Stone Don’t you just love St. Gomer’s Day?
As you know, I LOVE IT when someone shares a great website or blog that helps authors. Today, Alexis O’Neill shared a cool website on our SCBWI listserve. It’s called Book Tour: Where Authors and Audiences Meet. For published authors, this site serves as another way to get the word out about you, your books and your appearances--and it's free! The site says it’s a Beta version, which means it’s in its trial stages, but it seems like a great idea and quite a few authors have already signed up. Click HERE to check it out! (click on "Kids" on the upper right hand box to see all of the wonderful children's authors listed).
Those of you who read Publisher’s Weekly might have read some disturbing news about the Reading is Fundamental program (RIF). Here is how the RIF website summarizes it:
“The President's proposed budget for fiscal year 2009 eliminatesthe Inexpensive Book Distribution Program, which is the RIF Book Distribution Program. Unless Congress reinstates funding for this program, RIF will be unable to distribute 16 million books annually to the nation's youngest and most at-risk children.”
RIF is the oldest program of its kind, starting in 1966. For many at-risk and less advantaged children, the RIF program is the only way for them to have books of their own. Think about the first book that you knew was YOURS. Remember that feeling of wonderment and how you read it over and over again? Now imagine how many kids will never have that happen if the RIF program is gone. Having books excites kids about reading (I won’t go into the pros of reading—I think I’d be preaching to the choir on that issue!). We must do what we can to try to save this program. Please-please-please—act now by going to the RIF website (CLICK HERE) and following their simple instructions for locating your political leaders (congressmen/women, state senators, and the president himself) and asking them for their support in continuing to fund RIF. It’s very simple and only takes a few minutes to complete (and isn’t it worth a few minutes of your time to help put books into the hands of less fortunate kids?).
Last night I discovered another terrific blog that I had to share. Author Kim Norman has created a blog that lists author who do school visits by state. It's a one-stop visit for educators who are looking for visiting authors. How cool is that? Check it out, "Author School Visits by State."
On her blog, “Fresh From the Oven” Catherine Ipcizade shared the ups and downs of her book launch at the Santa Ana Zoo, for her new book, ‘Twas the Day Before Zoo Day. What I really loved about this was that Catherine shared with readers what *didn’t* work, as well as what did. We’ve all had those events where things didn’t go as planned so her experiences were totally relatable!
Another mucho-generoso blog post I read this week came from the website of author Evelyn B. Christensen, where she posted a list of educational publishers and their submission information. This was a lot of research on her part, and to share it as she did deserves a round of applause!
Graham Salisbury is one of my favorite authors. I recently read Night of the Howling Dogs and loved it. Inspired by an actual event (the 1975 7.2 earthquake in Halape, Hawaii), he has created a fiction story based on the horror that Boy Scout Troop 77 of Hilo, HI actually experienced while camping at Halape, during the quake and subsequent tsunami.
Senior patrol leader and eighth-grader Dylan, eagerly anticipates camping on the beach at Halape with his Boy Scout Troop, in the shadows of Mauna Loa; but when Dylan discovers that his scout leader has invited Louie (a hardened street kid with a rough past) to join the boys, all enthusiasm is gone. Dylan and Louie have a bit of a past, and the threat that Dylan feels from Louie weighs heavily on his mind.
While making the difficult trek through barren lava fields, Dylan spots two dogs in the distance—an odd thing to see in such a desolate location. The troop finally arrives at Halape, a pristine Hawaiian beach. After settling in for their first night at camp, Dylan hears the dogs howling and wonders if it’s some kind of omen.
Later that night, disaster strikes in the form of a massive earthquake, followed by a tsunami that washes the beach clean of all who inhabited it. Together, Dylan and Louie survive the aftermath of Pele's anger; saving their fellow scouts, scout leaders and a group of paniolos (Hawaiian cowboys) who were also camping there.
Salisbury's knowledge of Hawaii and his natural and unobtrusive style of weaving Hawaiian legend into contemporary times are masterful. He creates a compelling yet sensitive adventure story that will have readers turning the pages. This middle-grade novel received a starred review from Booklist, was a 2007 NAPPA Gold Award (National Parenting Publications Award) and was listed on the 2007 New York Public Library's 100 Titles for Reading and Sharing.
Night of the Howling Dogs by Graham Salisbury/ISBN-13: 978-0385731225 /2007 /Wendy Lamb Books