Sunday, February 19, 2012

MMGM: Fangbone! Third Grade Barbarian (and Winners!!!!)

Hello again, gang! I've got a review of another great book coming up, but first the winner of Breadcrumbs is



If that's you, shoot me an email with your mailing info to isaiah [at] bushelsofgrace {dot} com.

Now for another great Middle Grade book, I read

Fangbone! Third Grade Barbarian:

I wanted to read a graphic novel this time, and finding out that Michael Rex (author of Furious George Goes Bananas) had done one was just what the doctor ordered. Plus, he paid tribute to Conan the Barbarian, one of my favorite tales.

One of the reasons I wanted to review a graphic novel is because of my love for the medium, and Michael utilizes it very well. It's a single color graphic novel, which is a very clever, understated style. It's perfect for the story of Fangbone.

Fangbone is a young member of a barbarian clan that is in charge of protecting a disgusting severed toe, the final piece needed for the bad guys to resurrect the most powerful evil being in the universe. Fangbone takes the toe and travels through a portal to our world, where he gets integrated into a third grade class and becomes the school celebrity.

Besides the fact that the characters in this story are unique and relatable, Michael has woven a hilarious tale filled with inside jokes and deadpan one-liners. I would recommend this book to every 6-9 year old boy, as well as any other kid who loves comics, barbarians, or just really funny books.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

History is a Fractal, and why you should care.

February 15, 1898: The USS Maine explodes in the harbor of Havana, Cuba.

That event was the beginning of a story. It was the beginning of a history. And, like all other histories, this story functioned as a fractal.

You've heard of fractals, right? It's a mathematical idea that there are patterns that, no matter how closely you zoom in or how small you fracture it, it will always maintain the appearance of a full pattern. In other words, even the smallest piece is a complete unit as well as part of the whole.

How does the sinking of the Maine, and other historical events, function as a fractal? Let me illustrate.

There's the story of the people who manned the boat. Their lives were drastically affected that day. The length of their story, from explosion to end? Minutes, maybe hours at best.

There's the Spanish/American war that ensued because of the event, culminating in the Treaty of Paris. That story includes Teddy Roosevelt, Booker T Washington, a nation uniting for the first time since the Civil War, and the first time African Americans really gained national respect. Length of story: 5-6 months.

There's the story of Cuba and the symbiotic relationship that developed with America because of their liberation from Spanish rule. That story includes casinos, Cuban jazz, the mafia, Ricky Ricardo, and gross government corruption. Length of story: 50-60 Years.

There's the story of Cuba's quest for national independence, which eventually culminated in the rise of Fidel Castro, the Bay of Pigs invasion, and the Cuban Missile Crisis. Length of story: 70 years+

There's the story of the Cuban people's thirst for freedom, which would eventually include countless exiles fleeing to America and defying corrupt regime after corrupt regime. That story includes Marco Rubio, Bill Clinton, Elian Gonzales, and even Barack Obama, as well as countless measures to either enable or inhibit refugees from Cuba. Length of story: 114 years+

Now, why should you care? If you are a writer, your job is to carefully craft your story so that every piece matters, no matter how small, and that everything fits into a bigger picture, no matter how large. Think of The Hobbit and Lord Of The Rings. Think of the baby Harry Potter being dropped on a muggle doorstep and the larger war between Voldemort and the world. Think of a tea party between Lucy and Mr. Tumnus, and the entirety of Narnia awaiting Aslan's salvation.

"World Building" is the catch phrase, but it's more than just your setting. You have to develop the fractal plot of your world and know where your story plot fits into it.

That's how you make the sinking of the Maine matter.



Sunday, February 12, 2012

MMGM: Breadcrumbs (And a Giveaway!)

I was finally able to read Breadcrumbs by Anne Ursu (giveaway details below), and let me say, it lived up to all the hype.
Here's the description from Anne's website:

Once upon a time, Hazel and Jack were best friends. But that was before he stopped talking to her and disappeared into a forest with a mysterious woman made of ice. Now it's up to Hazel to go in after him. Inspired by Hans Christian Andersen's “The Snow Queen,” Breadcrumbs is a story of the struggle to hold on, and the things we leave behind.

I enjoyed this book immensely, for a lot of reasons. First, there was the nostalgic transportation back to fifth grade which I didn't expect. I usually expect to be reminded of life in my tweens when I read a MG book, but this one did more. It actually dropped me back into my size 8 shoes, and I relived my days as a bookish little guy who was more concerned with superheroes than fitting in. It was wonderful and painful, all together, and it was absolutely perfect.

Second, this book was an illustration of the art of our craft as writers. Anne is a master of the written word, and she meticulously painted a beautiful picture in this book. From the first page, her descriptions of a fresh snowfall immediately capture the reader, and she uses every tool in her writing tool belt to masterfully create her story.

Speaking of illustrations, Erin McGuire's illustrations are beautifully done, and they perfectly represent the story as Anne writes it. I know this is one of her first projects, and she has done a fantastic job.

So, there you have it. Breadcrumbs. What a book. And now, what a giveaway! All you have to do to win a copy of Breadcrumbs is follow this blog and comment on this post. I'll choose a commenter at random using one of the marvelous random number generators online, confirm that they follow this blog, and then BOOM! That commenter will magically win a copy of this fantastically written book. The deadline is 12:00 pm CST on Friday, Feb. 17.

What could be better?


ps. Special thanks to Shannon Messenger for starting the awesome MMGM Meme in the first place.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

5 Steps to Writing a Killer Historical Novel

I am a fan of historical novels, both writing them and reading them.

Actually, that's not an entirely true statement. I am a fan of good historical novels, both writing them and reading them. Unfortunately, there are far too many examples of bad historicals that have put a bad taste in the mouth of many readers. I'm hoping to help you fix that with the same five steps I've used in writing historical novels.

1. Research. I'm guessing that, if you're interested in writing a historical novel, it is because of your immense love of history. However, I must warn you, loving history and a certain period or event in history isn't going to be enough for you to write a good historical novel. You have to know your history. And, much as I hate to say it, Wikipedia will only take you so far. You need to dig and dig and dig, like an archaeologist seeking to unearth an ancient civilization, trying to understand the period that you will be writing about. Read everything you can get your hands on, and read from every angle. Magazines, books, old newspaper clippings. Listen to the music of the times, collect the art, read other books from the same era. Immerse yourself into the world of the past and you will be able to successfully replicate it in your book. That brings us to the second step...

2. Build. Just like any other book you may write, world building is a very important prelude to actually writing your story. Don't let the fact that you will be writing in a real time and place, you are writing fiction and you'll be creating a world to put your characters in. It's important for you to establish the rules, know the mindset, and have the language in your back pocket. The greatest historical novels are ones where the author doesn't lecture the reader on the times, but (are you ready for this?) shows the reader the times through fantastic writing. Yeah, show don't tell. Who'd a thunk it would come up yet again.

3. Ask. In my opinion, every great novel begins with a question, and a historical is no different. In fact, historical novels may beg more questions than others. What would happen if the Lindbergh kidnapping was a meticulous cover-up? What if King Henry VIII was actually gay? What if a southern girl's father in the 1930s was forced to defend a black man accused of raping a white woman? (Yes, that's To Kill A Mockingbird, and I try to throw that in as often as possible.) You have to ask the right questions to get your story moving, and you have to ask the sort of questions that others may not have asked but will want to know the answer to.

4. Answer. I know there's always the argument of Pantsers vs Plotters, but I think that you have to have some element of plotting when you write a historical novel, simply because you don't have as much freedom to roam wherever you may please. You should probably know the end from the beginning and have a general idea of how to get there. I'm not saying you should necessarily do the snowflake method or anything (it works for some people, doesn't for others) but you should put some thought into it before you start.

5. Write the darn thing. Yeah, you have to put in a lot of work before hand, but it will pay off, I promise you. Just dig in and take all the foundations you've laid, and make a phenomenal piece of literature we can all be proud of. Easy right?


Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Happy 200th to Dickens and Me!

Happy 200th Birthday, Charles Dickens! (A day late, but whatever.)
Happy 200th Blog Post, Isaiah J. Campbell!

It has been a while since I last posted, perhaps because I wanted to make the 200th post something extra special. At least, that's what I'd like you to believe. Rather, it has been due to an increased workload of writing, which bodes better for me than for you.

It has also been due to a great amount of soul searching about my purpose as a writer, the sort of brand I want to establish, and the sort of impact I want to have. I would recommend every writer take some time to ponder these topics as well.

I've realized that I write Middle Grade books in historical settings, and I do so to inspire kids young and old to study history and embrace the less told stories from our past. I do so because I believe there are some things that ought not be forgotten.

Because of that, I want to partner with those who passionately work to remind us of what we so easily forget. Teachers, Librarians, Scholars, Journalists, I want to be your advocate and ally in the quest to help our future leaders check their rear-view mirrors.

This is who I am, this is what I do.

(Oh, and on the less serious, more parenthetical side of things, I'm on pinterest now, posting images from my historical research for future stories. And also of superheroes. Because I can.)