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READ LIKE A WRITER, a teaching blog

eXtreme X-overs

I bought pictures books for my dad for his birthday this year. He is in his late 80s. Why would I buy picture books (PB) for anyone over the age of eight? Because some PBs are what I call extreme cross-overs. They have high quality artwork. They have topics of interest to older men. ( Read More 

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eXtreme X-overs continued

“The Poppy Lady was quite a challenge,” Layne Johnson said. “Learning historic info on a character with limited photo reference was difficult but I wanted to make sure the reader was exposed to full color paintings. In other words, not sepia toned art or photos, which is what we often see.  Read More 

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NO SURRENDER SOLDIER is told in two points of view--that of the WWII Japanese soldier who hid for 28 years on Guam and that of 15-year-old Kiko whose family suffered an atrocity during WWII.

In children's lit, editors prefer single point of view (POV) because readers identify more strongly with one main character. Children's and teen (young adult—YA) fiction today are character -driven, especially middle grade (MG) and YA novels.

In adult novels, authors often use multiple POVs. Some writers even head-hop within the same
chapters. (I, personally, do not like head-hopping.) Two examples where multiple POVs are used in adult books and it is more defined, but in my opinion messes up in the endings, are BALZAC AND THE CHINESE SEAMSTRESS by Dai Sijie and THE CAPTAIN AND THE ENEMY, a novella that could be classified as YA, by Graham Greene. I love all of Greene's other novels, especially THE POWER AND THE GLORY, but imho THE CAPTAIN doesn't work because toward the end the main character (MC) dies. That's why he has to switch POV. In BALZAC I don't like how at the end he switches to minor character's POVs. To me, it was like, who cares? What does this add?

In children's lit, editors insist on single POV, or separating multiple POVs into different chapters. In MG & YA novels, if the author decides the story is best told in multiple POVs, then not only do the chapters need to be done separately, but alternating. Editors are concerned one character will be dropped too long and readers won’t care about the character whose POV is dropped.

One challenge in writing multiple POV is to make the different voices and characters very, very distinct. Adding to the distinctly different voices, you can change tenses and/or person (first or third).

In Linda Sue Park's historical MG novel MY NAME WAS KEOKO, one sibling POV is in present tense and one is in past tense. I do something similar in GRIDIRON GIRLS with three POVS. The two football girls' POV chapters are in present tense and Missy the cheerleader's POV chapters are in past tense. The football kicker, Lupe, is Hispanic, so she does not use contractions in her speech— dialogue, internal monologue, and narrative –and her sentence constructions are often reversed since she is ESL. Whereas in the quarterback’s chapters, Dallas not only uses contractions but a strong West Texas dialect. By writing Missy’s chapters in past tense then she can cover the same time frame as Lupe and Dallas’ accounts, which are in sequential “real time.”

SKINHUNGER by Kathleen Duey is a stunning YA fantasy novel in two POVs. Kathleen does a fascinating thing with time. I read this novel twice. The first time it took me part way into the novel to realize the one POV is past, leading up to the resurrection of magic. This is really hard to explain unless you have read SKINHUNGER because Kathleen does it in a way totally different than most present tense/past tense POVs. [Note: SACRED SCARS is the second in the “Resurrection of Magic” trilogy by Simon and Schuster.]

The MG historical novel that possibly holds the record for the most POVs is BAT 6 by Virginia Euwer Wolff, told in 21 POVs by two opposing girls’ baseball teams.

NO SURRENDER SOLDIER, tbr Jan. 2014 by Merit Press, is told in two POVs because the WWII soldier, Isamu Seto, is hiding in the jungle. In 1972, when Kiko’s story takes place, no one knows the soldier exists. If I had told the story in a single POV, then it might have still been suspenseful for Kiko to discover the soldier, but I would not have been able to show the reader how and why Seto hid and survived for 28 years in the jungle. Both POVs are in past tense since this is a historical novel.

However, 15-year-old Kiko’s POV chapters are in first person, whereas Seto’s chapters are in third person. I wrote it this way so the reader could identify with Kiko, and not Seto. The third person puts a bit more psychic distance between the reader and the character.

In the YA sci-fi thriller NOW THAT YOU'RE HERE, tbr December 2014 by Knopf, author Amy Nichols uses two POVs, alternate chapters from Danny Ogden and Eevee Solomon. Both are in first person, present tense. However, since the characters are different genders, their voices are distinctly different. Here’s how Amy arrived at the decision to write her novel in two POVs:

[Amy says] I initially wrote it in a single first person POV (the female character in the story), but found it very limiting. I switched to third person briefly, but that also didn't work. Personally, I don't like reading third person omniscient (i.e., head hopping). If I write in third person, I typically stay very close to one character, so writing in third person just gave me another kind of first person, which still felt very limited. Then I remembered how Lauren Baratz-Logsted wrote CRAZY BEAUTIFUL, with two alternating POVs, and I decided to give it a try. The minute I started writing the boy's POV, I knew it was the right decision for this story. Because the characters are each experiencing such drastic and personal life changes, it made sense that getting both sides of the story and experience would make for a deeper, more satisfying read. [end quote]

Notice that Amy wrote her novel in several different styles, trying out which worked best for her story. So don’t be afraid to experiment, write and rewrite, until the characters are telling their own compelling stories—a story readers can’t put down. So don’t be afraid to experiment, write and rewrite, until the characters are telling their own compelling stories—a story readers can’t put down.

For an excellent series on using different point of views (POV) I recommend Nancy Butt's blog series on POV
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News articles and book used in researching my novel NO SURRENDER SOLDIER

Some writers say they prefer to write fiction rather than nonfiction so that they can make up the facts and not have to do any research. Unless their story is fantastical and they have made up completely different Otherworld rules, then all fiction is based in nonfiction, i.e. facts. Even in science fiction,  Read More 

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NO SURRENDER SOLDIER will be published by Merit Press Sept. - Oct. 2014.

It's official! I signed a contract with Merit Press (F+W Media) for my novel, NO SURRENDER SOLDIER. My editor is Jacquelyn Mitchard. The release date is Jan. 2014.

In keeping true to the intent of this blog I will continue to give teaching tips for  Read More 

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Happy new year for 2013!

In this blog post I decided to take a break from teaching about the craft of writing and instead talk a little about the writing life.

I received an email from an editor of a university newspaper, asking if she should  Read More 

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My first children's books were published in the Christian Booksellers' Association (CBA) market, so people sometimes ask me why I don't write exclusively for the Christian market. What they may not know is that the major Christian publishers are owned by secular (ABA) publishers: HarperCollins owns Zondervon and Thomas Nelson; Random House owns Multnomah and Waterbrook Press; Simon & Schuster owns Howard Publishing.

What also surprises them is when I say that some of the best-written, intellectually thought-provoking religious novels are published and sold in the American Booksellers Association (ABA) market. Here is just a sampling of novels where the protagonist grapples with issues of his or her faith:

WHEN WE WERE SAINTS by Han Nolan, published by Harcourt books, 2003, editor Karen Grove -- Archibald Lee Caswell is a sinner whose grandfather, on his deathbed, points at him and says, "…you are a saint!" The rest of this deeply religious book explores what it means to be a saint.

I love all of Nolan's books. However, a particular favorite of mine that also explores faith is SEND DOWN A MIRACLE published by Harcourt, 1996. This is a powerful book about the difference between following a legalistic religion and knowing the God of mercy, love, and forgiveness.

THE CALLING by Cathryn Clinton, published by Candlewick press, 2001 -- This is a story about a 12-year-old Pentecostal preacher in South Carolina. Esther Leah Ridley is anointed with the gift of healing. But what her uncle, the crusade leader, has not counted on is that Esta also has the gift of discernment.

David Almond is another author who often writes about religious themes. One of my favorites is CLAY, published by Delacorte Press, 2005. Imagine, since God created man from clay and a part of man is evil, then how monstrous would a man be if created from clay by man, not God? This gripping Irish novel explores the dual nature of man--good and evil--and the theological concepts of a good God, evil, the devil, angels, saints and sinners.

My favorite Jewish author, Chaim Potok, wrote MY NAME IS ASHER LEV, published by Penguin, 1973, about a Hasidic Jew who struggles with practicing his religion and creating art that is contrary to his religious beliefs.

Similarly, John Ritter wrote the historical novel CHOOSING UP SIDES, 1998, about a lefty who struggles with his father's legalistic religion (Southern Baptist) and his love of baseball, which is forbidden by his father. (Interesting note, Ritter's Philomel publisher-editor told me the original title was LEFT OUT OF HEAVEN before it was changed before publication to CHOOSING UP SIDES.) In another of Ritter's baseball books, OVER THE WALL, published by Puffin, 2002, the protagonist is a Christian and attends church, although it's not overt in overcoming his struggles.

There are other novels where church attendance is just a normal part of the main character's life. And values taught in Christianity work out through the character's problems. Two examples are WHEN ZACHARY BEAVER CAME TO TOWN by Kimberly Willis Holt, editor Christy Ottaviano, published by Henry Holt, 1999. The protagonist and his friends find a way to baptize Zachary. BECAUSE OF WINN DIXIE by Kate DiCamillo, published by Candlewick, 2000, is another middle grade novel that is about God's grace, forgiveness, and love.

Any of these novels are worthy of writing an academic literary criticisms on religious themes.

UPDATE: Since I wrote this article, my debut novel NO SURRENDER SOLDIER was published by a secular publisher Merit Press/Adams Media/F&W Media and then was acquired by Simon Pulse/Simon & Schuster. NO SURRENDER SOLDIER, a historical suspense, is a very spiritual novel, even having been taught in Catholic high schools and favorably reviewed by the Catholic Library Association journal.

What are your favorite religious novels, and why? Are they published in the ABA market, or by a religious press?  Read More 
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"There is nothing new under the sun." Solomon said in Proverbs. The same goes for story ideas.

As a writer you may have selected the background or theme for your story and now found out that hundreds of books have been written on that topic. Do you go ahead and write the story? Maybe.

Let's take prom, for instance. In a quick check on Goodreads, Laura "The Zealous Reader" posted 34 books with a prom theme. If we were to look up "prom" in Bowker's BOOKS IN PRINT by subject, I'm sure there would be many, many, many more novels on that topic. Obviously not all these books are the same. They don't have the same characters, the same voice, or necessarily the same story problem. Even if they had similar characters and story problems and resolutions, the story plots would not necessarily be the same.

For example, let's look at PROM by Laurie Halse Anderson and PAPER TOWNS by John Green. Without giving away too many spoilers, I'll talk mainly about the characters and the setups. In both PROM and PAPER TOWNS the main characters do not want to go to the prom. This is their external plot problem. It also makes them reluctant hero/heroine.

Both novels are told in first-person single point of view (POV). Yet the voices are distinctly different, and not just because they are different genders. Anderson's main character (MC) is a street-smart urban girl who rides the bus and is from a blue-collar family in Philadelphia. Green's MC is a suburban boy who drives a mini-van, his parents are college-educated, and they live in Orlando.

Both PROM and PAPER TOWNS involve a plot problem where the main character cares very deeply for a neighbor girl. In PROM, the neighbor girl has an eccentric grandmother. In PAPER TOWNS, the neighbor girl has a younger sister. The similarities continue in that both characters have a small circle of friends who want to attend prom.

However, the two YA novels, PROM and PAPER TOWNS, are extremely different. Anderson's story is a straightforward, streamlined, sequential telling of her main character's story. Green's novel, PAPER TOWNS, becomes very complex, including a mystery and a journey. In the layers of complexity, Green plays off of "Leaves of Grass" by Walt Whitman. As  Read More 
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Congratulations to Rita Borg, PB author of MEG THE EGG, for being the first to sign-up for Christine Kohler's blogletter READ LIKE A WRITER! Rita, who lives in Malta, won an autographed copy of LARGER-THAN-LIFE LARA by Dandi Daley Mackall.
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READ LIKE A WRITER is for teachers, librarians, writers, and bibliophiles who want to know the why and how of crafting quality literature. One type of literary criticism is deconstruction, where language is questioned. In this blog I’m using the term in a more general, practical sense, as I deconstruct writing elements of  Read More 
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