Three Books and an Embryo

MartianSettings can be characters. I sort of understood before, but finding three books with terrific place characters helps me really get it.

The Martian, written by Andy Weir and re-published by Crown in 2014, isn’t specifically for young adults. But I think that young men and science geeks of all genders will really get into it.

All signs show that astronaut Mark Watney, the narrator, died in an accident as he and the crew race to escape a Martian sandstorm before the MAV (Mars ascent vehicle) is blown over. Long story short—Mark isn’t dead. He must survive a contest with the hostile atmosphere of Mars. How would you deal with limited water, air, and food and no working communication system?

Otherworldly creature? Nope, we're not sure what, but its made from tree parts.

Otherworldly creature? Nope, we’re not sure what, but its made from tree parts.

Although I can’t claim to be a science geek, this novel had me on the edge of my chair promising to go for a walk in just a little bit . . . just a little bit more . . . ok, tomorrow. Talk about throwing one thing after another at your main character. The author must have had a great time figuring out what kind of problems Mark would face and what in, or out of, the world solutions could a person find.

Maybe "the creature" is a giant preying mantis?

Maybe “the creature” is a giant preying mantis?

Also, great voice—the book had me laughing and reading lines to my husband, who had finished the book the day before. (On top of that, he didn’t even mind hearing them for the second time.)

Warning to those of sensitive ears: four-letter words, but nothing that most kids wouldn’t have heard or that most of us wouldn’t use if we were in Mark’s situation.

Note to writers: This is one of those books we hear about. Author independently published in 2011. It was picked up by Crown and put out in 2014. It can happen!

Midnight Gulch, the town in A Snicker of Magic, written by Natalie Lloyd and just published by Scholastic, is a town drained of its magic . . . supposedly. I learned about this book at a recent SCBWI event, where it was mentioned by an excited editor as a great example of voice. It’s also a great example of a setting as a character.
Snicker
Felicity, the narrator, loves stories and collects words that only she sees. A Snicker of Magic has more than a snicker of wisdom for those of us who feel rescued by stories and/or are shy about saying what we’re thinking.

A snicker is just the right amount of magic in this book. Don’t expect wizards or witches on broomsticks. Instead you’ll find magic that just might be within our grasp.

I’ve read this wonderful middle grade story twice and found it even better the second time. There are a goodly number of characters. (I made a list on the second reading to keep track of the past and present relationships. If you want it,  let me know.)

We had our own Southern California magic this week--RAIN . . . finally, a little

We had our own Southern California magic this week–RAIN . . . finally, a little

And, fellow writers, pay attention to the voice. It’s engaging and practically perfect. There was only one three-word phrase in the book that didn’t feel right. Please let me know if you identify the same phrase and have the same response.
Green House
 Welcome to the Green House, a picture book poem written by Jane Yolen, gorgeously illustrated by Laura Regan, and published by The Putnam & Grosset Group in 1997, stars . . . the setting.

An epiphyte that grew from a small pot up into a tree. It's about 20 feet up. A plant you could see in the rain forest.

An epiphyte that grew from a small pot up into a tree. It’s about 20 feet up. A plant you could see in the rain forest.

The supporting cast consists of rain forest inhabitants. Good book to support environmental concerns and the love of beauty, both visual and spoken. Make sure you read the book aloud to get the full impact of the language.

And now—the continuing saga of the embryo book in a years-long pregnancy. (See the post of 3/14/14 on dealing with rejection for the beginning of this story.) Quick summary is that I received a critique of a story (one that has been rewritten and “polished” multiple times). The new critique brought up issues that no one had mentioned before.

The lower part of the epiphyte in the tree. It's growing around Mother Nature. A second epiphyte in the foreground has buds.

The lower part of the epiphyte in the tree. It’s growing around Mother Nature. A second epiphyte in the foreground has buds.

I rewrote the story using the one arc idea and liked the result. I asked a former writing teacher to read the new version. She didn’t agree with the recent critique and liked the previous version.

What’s a girl to do?

Go to ready-made focus groups, my critique groups, who are probably sick of the tinkering and multiple versions of these three pages.

The members of one group write for adults. They all liked the newest version best. The members of one of the groups that all write for children liked the older version best . . . with some elements from the newest version.

A bromeliad, another plant you could find in a rain forest. See how a little rain fuels my delusions?

A bromeliad, another plant you could find in a rain forest. See how a little rain fuels my delusions?

What’s a girl to do?

Rewrite the older version, submit it for the next round of critiquing, and be grateful for other writers who willingly read and give feedback until all the words are just right.

To quote my memory of an old song, “You’ve got to laugh a little, cry a little, let your poor heart sigh a little. That’s the story of, that’s the glory of love.”  And what’s a good story if not a story of love?