Character, Middle Grade, MMGM, Reading, Review

MMGM: THE TRAIN OF LOST THINGS by Ammi-Joan Paquette

Hello, MMGM friends! It’s been a bit since my last flurry of reviews and even longer since my last middle grade review, but I was in the revision cave and then at the Lake of the Ozarks enjoying time with my family. On the way back, I started THE TRAIN OF LOST THINGS by Ammi-Joan Paquette and ended up finishing it that evening. Despite the fact it deals with a sad topic, it was a quick and engaging read that I couldn’t put down. My ten-year-old son also read it a few days later and enjoyed it as well. But on to the description.

The Train of Lost Things by Ammi-Joan PaquetteMarty has always loved to hear his father tell the story of the Train of Lost Things: a magical engine that flies (yes, flies!) all around the world, collecting children’s lost objects. Then one day, Marty loses his most precious possession–a jean jacket packed with memories–which was given to him by his dad, who’s now very sick. Marty is devastated. He thinks the Train of Lost Things is just a story–but what if it’s real? Marty embarks on a desperate adventure to find the train, which is now his only link to the irreplaceable jacket.

To Marty’s shock and delight, he learns that the train is real! But it’s also gone out of control. Instead of helping return the lost items, the train has become an ever-growing heap of toys, trinkets, and memories. Along with Dina and Star, two girls he meets aboard the train, Marty sets about to learn what’s going on and to help put it right. And hopefully find his jacket in the process.

Here are the five things I loved most:

1. The jacket – What a wonderful idea to create a jacket full of memories, every pin and patch a representation of an activity Marty and his father had done together. My heart dropped with Marty’s when the jacket went missing.

2. The magic – I love the concept of a place where all the lost treasures go. Who hasn’t lost something at some point, something you’ve never been able to find again, no matter where you looked? It’s nice to think it might be out there, waiting for you.

3. The descriptions – I’ve read several of Ammi-Joan Paquette’s books now, and I always love her descriptions. Here’s an example of Marty climbing up to the top of the train.

It was a weird feeling, hiking up a tiny curlicue staircase on a moving mystery train. The steps were so narrow that Marty almost had to take them sideways. The whole thing was a bit like watching–no, like being–a fizzy bubble zooming up the inside of a bottle. Like he said, weird. With an extra dose of super weird on the side. Especially because he got to the top faster than he expected, and before he knew it his head and shoulders had oozed right through the opening window hatch, and then he was half in and half out of the train, and for a second his eyes blurred over because it was literally the craziest thing he had ever experienced.

4. Marty’s journey – Marty was such an authentic character to me. I felt so deeply what he was going through with his dad as well as the distance he felt from his friends. I appreciated how his adventure on the train helped him.

5. The ending – I expected this story to be sad based on the premise, but I was very satisfied with the resolution of the story. Now, my son had one more thing he wanted to happen at the end, but overall he was good with it too.

Have you read THE TRAIN OF LOST THINGS? What did you think?

Critiquing, PitchWars, Querying, Revising, What I've Learned, Writing

What I’ve Learned in Seven Years of Querying

A few weeks ago one of my writing friends posted a wonderfully inspiring tweet:

And I replied:

Technically, this statement isn’t true. If you’ve seen my posts on tracking my queries, you’ll know that I do keep track of my rejections. However, I’ve never totaled them up for all the manuscripts, and as I thought about this post, I realized it might actually be helpful to share that information. I always figured I’d save these numbers for a dramatic How I Got My Agent post, but since that hasn’t happened yet, let’s do it! But also, as I’m still querying my latest manuscript, I’m not tying any of these numbers to specific manuscripts.

Manuscripts: 6
Queries: 594
Query Rejections: 500
Partial requests: 31
Full requests: 75
R&Rs: 4

So there it is. A nice even 500 rejections. But wait! That’s only query rejections. When you add in the fact that those submissions and R&Rs didn’t turn into offers, I’ve squeaked over 600 (some of those requests were from contests rather than queries). Now, I did include queries and submissions for the manuscript I’m currently querying in these numbers, and I’m still waiting to hear on a number of those. Plus, there are a few agents who haven’t responded on a couple of my older manuscripts. Who knows? Maybe they’ll find it in their inbox and still make an offer :). (I am an eternal optimist.) Which brings me to my first and always lesson:

PERSEVERANCE

Basically, I’m not giving up, no matter what. I will keep writing until one of these manuscripts sticks. I mean, this is my What I’ve Learned in Seven Years of Querying Post, and it’s a tradition. I’ve written one for each year, so if you’re new here, that’s already going to tell you something. If you want to go back and read the others, here they are: What I’ve Learned in One, Two, Three, Four, Five, and Six Years of Querying.

But on to the other things I’ve learned this past year.

Being in a major contest like Pitch Wars doesn’t put a magic spell on your manuscript. Now, I want to be clear that I did not assume being in Pitch Wars would result in an agent. It’s more that I thought this manuscript would be more ready than any of the others and I would feel super-confident in my materials. I’d had multiple writing friends participate in the contest before, which is much more than an agent showcase, by the way, and so I understood going in that the main benefit of Pitch Wars was the mentoring. I’d entered Pitch Wars with three other manuscripts in the past and not been selected, with feedback varying from “You should go ahead and query!” to the sort of responses you get from agents: “Not right for me.” So when I was selected by a mentoring team (Hi, Beth and Kristin!), it felt like I’d done something right with this manuscript. I knew it wasn’t ready to query yet, and that’s why the timing of Pitch Wars was so perfect. I would work with my mentors to shine up the manuscript and start querying after the agent showcase. I was thrilled with the final product and happy with the requests I received during the agent round (I never expected to be one of the entries with dozens of requests). Where my expectations have stumbled a bit was in the querying afterward. As with every other project, I’ve questioned pretty much every aspect–query, first pages, the overall manuscript. So being in Pitch Wars didn’t magically erase all those doubts. Oh well. Fingers crossed the right agent is still considering it!

Participating in a mentoring contest brings your revision skills to a whole new level. As I started drafting and am now revising another manuscript, I’ve seen the benefits of working in-depth with two mentors. I have amazing critique partners, and they’re very honest with me when they spot issues in my work, but the difference with mentors is that they go even deeper, suggesting cuts and additions that a CP may not. As I started writing my latest project, I felt like I had two extra voices in my head asking me if I was addressing those weaknesses I’d had in my last manuscript. I believe this latest first draft was stronger because I went through the Pitch Wars revision process.

Seeing your name on the Acknowledgements page of a critique partner’s book for the first time is an amazing high. Several years ago I noticed there was a group of writers whose work I love who always thank each other in the acknowledgements page, and I thought, “Someday I will have a group of friends like that!” My group of critique partners and beta readers isn’t so close-knit that they’re all trading with each other, but several of them do chat with each other and share excitement over releases.

In any case, this spring marked the first time my name was in a friend’s book, and I definitely walked around the house making sure my husband and kids saw my name in there. There are two more coming up in the next year that I will get to celebrate as well. I don’t know how long it will be before my name is on the cover of a book, but for now I will cheer on my friends and continue reading the amazing work of the writers around me. There’s so much more to this writing journey than my work. I feel like breaking into a chorus of “We’re all in this together … ”

Find creative outlets with more immediate returns. I actually do a few creative things, but one creative outlet I’d missed recently was playing the violin, so last fall I joined a community orchestra. It was hard work. I hadn’t played classical music in years (I’d been playing only at church), so I had to practice A LOT, but experiencing the payoff of performing challenging music was very rewarding. Now that I’ve found it, I’m not giving it up. I need that opportunity to express myself creatively and see the end result.

So that’s what I’ve learned this past year, and I’m hard at work revising the next manuscript I plan to query. Because of that lesson I already shared but it doesn’t hurt to mention again …

PERSEVERANCE!

To those of you who are persevering with me, keep at it! I’m cheering for you.

Reading, Review, Young Adult

YA Review: ROYALS by Rachel Hawkins

When I finish a book with a huge grin on my face, it obviously deserves a review. But it’s more than that–I raced through Rachel Hawkins’s ROYALS in two nights, laughing out loud much of the time. I’m not surprised. I loved her Hex Hall and Rebel Belle series (and she’s also written a middle grade I’m sure we should all check out). Anyway, here’s what it’s about.

Royals by Rachel HawkinsMeet Daisy Winters. She’s an offbeat sixteen-year-old Floridian with mermaid-red hair, a part time job at a bootleg Walmart, and a perfect older sister who’s nearly engaged to the Crown Prince of Scotland. Daisy has no desire to live in the spotlight, but relentless tabloid attention forces her join Ellie at the relative seclusion of the castle across the pond.

While the dashing young Miles has been appointed to teach Daisy the ropes of being regal, the prince’s roguish younger brother kicks up scandal wherever he goes, and tries his best to take Daisy along for the ride. The crown–and the intriguing Miles–might be trying to make Daisy into a lady . . . but Daisy may just rewrite the royal rulebook to suit herself.

Here are the five things I loved most:

1. The voice – From the opening pages, I just loved Daisy and how she describes everything. Here’s a particularly funny passage when she first meets Sebastian, her future brother-in-law’s younger brother.

He’s tall, his entire upper body is so perfectly v-shaped that I think geese probably study him to get their flight formation just right, and he’s wearing a gray long-sleeved shirt and jeans that were clearly crafted just for him, possibly by nuns who’ve devoted themselves to the cause of making boys look as sinful as possible so the rest of us will know just how dangerous they are …

The whole book is like this and it’s just perfect!

2. The banter/dialogue – I just wanted all of the characters to keep talking, all the time. Every word they said was so spot on. I especially love the interaction between Daisy and Miles, but really her parents were awesome, and so were all the Royal Wreckers (Sebastian’s friends). I just want to study and it and figure out how to do it myself :).

3. The humor – You’ve probably already figured out from my mentions in the voice and dialogue that humor is a huge part of this book, and it’s woven into the words themselves, but it’s also situational. Daisy gets herself into some crazy debacles, sometimes due to what she says, but also because she’s in the wrong place at the wrong time. I was laughing non-stop.

4. The tabloid articles – Interspersed throughout the novel are short articles from royal-watchers that did a great job conveying background information about the various players in the story and moving the plot forward without having to show Daisy experiencing it. I really liked how these were used.

5. The romance – Love, love, love! I’m a sucker for hate-to-love romances and also another trope included here that I don’t want to mention because it isn’t brought up in the blurb. But this romance is so stinking adorable and really why I had the huge grin on my face at the end.

I can’t wait to see what Rachel Hawkins writes next because she’s batting a thousand for me. If you’ve read ROYALS, let me know what you thought in the comments!

Character, Reading, Review, Young Adult

YA Review: HERE LIES DANIEL TATE by Cristin Terrill

As I sat in the airport, silently weeping at the fact I was leaving Disney World behind, I picked up a book for the first time since we’d arrived at the most magical place on Earth. (I think I could live there, guys. That’s how much I love Disney World.) Anyway, thank goodness for this book, because I was immediately drawn into the twisty tale of Cristin Terrill’s HERE LIES DANIEL TATE. Here’s the description.

Here Lies Daniel Tate by Cristin TerrillWhen ten-year-old Daniel Tate went missing from one of California’s most elite communities, he left no trace. He simply vanished.

Six years later, when he resurfaces on a snowy street in Vancouver, he’s no longer the same boy. His sandy hair is darker, the freckles are gone, and he’s initially too traumatized to speak, but he’s alive. His overjoyed family brings him home to a world of luxury and comfort he can barely remember. In time, they assure him, he’ll recover his memories; all that matters now is they’re together again.

It’s perfect. A miracle. Except for one thing.

He isn’t Daniel Tate.

He’s a petty con artist who accidentally stumbled into the scam of a lifetime, and he soon learns he’s not the only one in the Tate household with something to hide. The family has as many secrets as they have millions in the bank, and one of them might be ready to kill to keep the worst one buried.

Here are the five things I loved most:

1. The unreliable narrator – It’s really hard to pull off a successful unreliable narrator, but Ms. Terrill does it extremely well. So well that in the opening pages the narrator says he’s a liar and I still wanted to believe him. I found myself three-fourths of the way through the book, still wanting to believe he was lying about particular plot points and that the ending would turn out differently than I suspected. That’s some masterful writing!

2. The mystery – Wow! I’d like to say I figured out everything because I’m usually pretty good at spotting clues, but I was surprised along with the narrator at the complete picture revealed at the end. I had parts of it but not everything. I’m a suspicious reader, so I was impressed!

3. The family dynamics – The Tates are so complex I won’t even attempt to describe them, but I really loved how Ms. Terrill delves into the multiple sides of each character. Nobody is all good or all bad. They are well-developed, multi-faceted characters who feel deeply and make choices–whether right or wrong–based on those emotions.

4. The character development – It was fascinating to watch the narrator caught in his own con and how it changed him as a person. Up to this point, he’d lived his life entirely for himself. What decisions would he make now that he’d lived the life of Daniel Tate?

5. The pacing – Like I said, I couldn’t put this book down. I started reading it on the plane, and I finished it the next evening, staying up until midnight because I had to see how the mystery unraveled and what happened to all the players. The ending was not exactly what I expected and yet entirely perfect for the book.

Have you read HERE LIES DANIEL TATE? What did you think of the ending? Since I asked, anyone who hasn’t read yet beware of the comments :).

Character, Reading, Review, Young Adult

YA Review: THE FIXER by Jennifer Lynn Barnes

I’ve returned from Disney World, truly the most magical place in the world. I mean, my kids love it, but let’s be honest: half the Disney movies in our house belong to me. And where else can you meet Chewie? (Okay, yes, I could go to a Star Wars convention, but in my world, Disney is easier.) The last time we visited Disney, my kids were still young enough they had to nap in the afternoon and we took several-hour breaks. This time, our breaks were much shorter, so I didn’t read multiple books during the trip. However, I did finish one book on the way there. I only had five pages left when we got off the plane, so I stood in the Disney Express line finishing it while my family focused on making sure we moved toward the bus :). That book was THE FIXER by Jennifer Lynn Barnes, one of my Scholastic Warehouse Sale finds from this past December.

The Fixer by Jennifer Lynn Barnes

When sixteen-year-old Tess Kendrick is sent to live with her older sister, Ivy, she has no idea that the infamous Ivy Kendrick is Washington D.C.’s #1 “fixer,” known for making politicians’ scandals go away for a price. No sooner does Tess enroll at Hardwicke Academy than she unwittingly follows in her sister’s footsteps and becomes D.C.’s premier high school fixer, solving problems for elite teens.

Secrets pile up as each sister lives a double life…until their worlds come crashing together and Tess finds herself in the middle of a conspiracy with one of her classmates and a client of Ivy’s. Suddenly, there is much more on the line than good grades, money, or politics, and the price for this fix might be more than Tess is willing to pay.

Here are the five things I loved most.

1. The pacing – The short, cliffhanger chapters kept me reading well past my bedtime for several nights in a row. I didn’t want to put this book down, but there were several nights I just had to or end up re-reading what I was half-asleep for :).

2. The stakes – In line with the pacing, the stakes kept ratcheting up throughout the book. Every time a new development was introduced, the tension grew.

3. The twists – This book included a number of fantastic twists. Some were planted in such a way I anticipated them, but I’m not sure all readers would. Others were quite surprising.

4. The secondary characters – I especially loved Vivvie and Asher, but all of the secondary characters were very well-drawn.

5. Tess herself – I found myself equally frustrated with Tess for continuing to dig when I could see it was going to get her into trouble and wanting the information myself as a reader. I also thought the way Tess handled the situation in relation to Ivy made complete sense–trust has to be earned, and Ivy hadn’t earned her trust based on their past relationship.

This book was left hanging a bit, and I’ve already ordered the next one. I hope it’s a bit more tied up as I did a bit of research and saw that there isn’t a third one planned. However, I will be checking out more books by Jennifer Lynn Barnes since this one kept me turning the pages quickly!

Revising, Writing

A Love Letter to My Work-In-Progress

As I sent my latest manuscript off to first-round readers today, it occurred to me it’s a lot like how you feel when you start dating someone and you’re so anxious for all of your friends to like that person as much as you do. You want their opinions, even though you secretly want them to tell you this person is perfect already. Of course, no one is perfect, just as no manuscript is perfect, particularly not an almost-first draft. Anyway, here’s the note I mentally–and now physically–drafted to my WIP :).

Dear Work-In-Progress,

I think you might be the best thing I’ve ever written! I am so in love with you right now–and so happy you’re finished!

I’ve told my writer friends about you, and they love the idea of you. Sure, they haven’t read you yet, but I’m positive when they do, they’ll love you as much as I do. They won’t rip you to shreds. They won’t nitpick about your character inconsistencies or point out where you’re completely unbelievable or zero in on your weaknesses–because in this moment you don’t have any of those. You are bright and shiny and beautiful.

Okay, I have to be honest. You probably aren’t perfect. I’m probably blinded by the glow of first love. But that’s all right. When the notes return and I must tear you apart and kill some of your most darling lines, I will return to this note so I can remember how much I loved you at the beginning. Because love is a commitment, and we are in this for the long haul.

Until we meet again, dear words …

Michelle

 

Revising, Writing

A Revision Plan of Attack Using Collections in Scrivener

I intended to write a celebratory post when I finished drafting this latest work-in-progress, but I never got around to it. I’m now nearly through my self-imposed month of letting the manuscript sit, but I certainly haven’t been idle. Even without reading through the manuscript again, I already have a ton of notes jotted in my Scrivener file. I spent several days brainstorming a title for the manuscript, but it took a morning sitting in the airport, the airline sending me constant updates about our flight, to make a light bulb go off in my brain.

“Your Flight Has Been Delayed,” the email said over and over. And while that would be pretty on the nose for my novel, it needed a slight change.

YOUR FLIGHT LIFE HAS BEEN DELAYED

I guess this title would make more sense if I told you what the manuscript is about, huh? Here’s my working query, which I’ve also added to my Writing tab.

When seventeen-year-old Jenny Waters boards Flight 237 on Aug. 2, 1995, in New York, she has two main goals. First, convince her parents to let her apply to the journalism program at Columbia University. Second, woman up and kiss her boyfriend of three months.

But when Jenny and the other passengers disembark in St. Louis, the airport manager informs them their plane disappeared—25 years ago. Like the universe hit pause on their plane while the rest of the world kept moving. In 2020, newspaper reporter isn’t exactly a top career choice, and as for her boyfriend, well, all his kisses belong to Jenny’s best friend. His wife. And they’re both in their forties.

As if trying to adjust to a new century isn’t hard enough, a conspiracy group called the Time Protection League sets out to prove Flight 237 is a big hoax. When Jenny’s not dealing with rumors she’s a clone, she’s fighting her attraction to Dylan, who introduces her to everything that’s good about her new present, like Harry Potter and late-night texting.

Too bad Dylan happens to be the son of Jenny’s former boyfriend and BFF. Yeah, that’s not awkward.

ONCE UPON A KISS meets Lost in YOUR LIFE HAS BEEN DELAYED, a 75,000-word young adult contemporary novel with speculative elements.

Obviously the word count will change once I start revising, but it’s a start.

One of the Scrivener features I plan to use as I revise is to create Collections so I can analyze certain areas of the manuscript in smaller chunks. For those of you who aren’t as familiar with Scrivener, a Collection is a group of scenes/chapters that you tag to belong to a group–or Collection–and can then view separately. Any changes you make to the scenes while viewing in the Collection are updated in the main manuscript. It’s simply a way to view them differently. This screen shot shows how I used Collections to separate out the two viewpoints in my YA contemporary, AS SEEN ON EVIE. The Evie scenes are grouped together, and above there’s a separate collection for the Justin scenes.

For this manuscript, I only have one point of view, but there are several subplots I want to analyze for various reasons. I plan to create Collections so I can go through the plot points for each of those subplots and do several checks–character descriptions and dialogue, plot progression, consistency, and other details. Creating the Collections is pretty simple.

  1. Click on the scene you want to include in the Collection.
  2. Click on the little arrow next to the settings icon at the bottom of the Binder.
  3. Select Add to Collection, New Collection.
  4. Type in the name of the Collection.
  5. For any other scenes you want to include, right-click and the name of the Collection will pop up. You can then view all scenes in that Collection by clicking on its name in the Binder.

           

I anticipate separating out the love story, friend drama, conspiracy group, and interactions with other people who were on the plane with her will help ensure those plots all have their own mini plot arcs and then fit into the overarching story. I love that Scrivener makes this easy to do.

What tricks do you use to ensure your subplots hold their weight within the overall story?