24 August 2016

Books I Love: Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

Title
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
Author
J.K. Rowling
Illustrator
Mary GrandPré
I first read this book
during graduate school in 1999

While I love all the Harry Potter books, my favorite is the third book in the series. This is the book where all the pieces fit together so perfectly that it feels like the world's most complicated jigsaw puzzle. It also expands the universe of the story Rowling is telling as we learn more about Harry's history and see the full scope of his loss.

It introduces us to Dementors, utterly terrifying creations that are the personification of depression. What I find most fascinating about Dementors is that the best treatment for an encounter with them is chocolate. Of course it is! Chocolate is the best cure for anything.

But what truly inspires me about this book is the plot. I do not possess Rowling's skill at plotting, and I am envious. Every piece of this story falls perfectly into place, creating one whole story while still feeling like part of a larger work.

Harry? Is that you?
photo by Sara K Joiner
Rowling is a master at doling out clues in little bits and pieces throughout the course of the series. There are clues in the second book that don't become important until the sixth! How does Rowling do this? I've seen that plot outline for Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (the longest of the books), and it absolutely terrifies me.

I am not a plotter. When I write, I have a beginning (which usually changes over the course of numerous drafts) and an ending. I also have what I call "things that need to happen" throughout the course of the book. In some cases, because I generally write historical fiction, I might have a specific order in which those things must happen, but sometimes I can move them around as I need.

I don't outline. I feel like once I've outlined a story, before I've finished a first draft, I've told it, and I no longer have an interest in writing it.

When I read something like Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban or any of the other Harry Potter books, it challenges me. I'll never be able to plot a book like J.K. Rowling, but I can keep trying.

20 August 2016

Suggested Reading: The School Year Begins

August means it's time to head back to school for all of you still in school, either student or teacher. I thought I would highlight some school stories for you to enjoy.

Picture Books

Dear Mr. Rosenwald
written by Carole Boston Weatherford, illustrated by R. Gregory Christie

An Annoying ABC
written by Barbara Bottner, illustrated by Michael Emberley

A Place Where Sunflowers Grow
written by Amy Lee-Tai, illustrated by Felicia Hoshino

Chapter Books

The Accidental Genius of Weasel High
written by Rick Detorie

*Appetite for Detention
written by Sloane Tanen, illustrated by Stefan Hagen

Charlie Joe Jackson's Guide to Not Reading
written by Tommy Greenwald, illustrated by J.P. Coovert

Happy reading!

For the purposes of the Suggested Reading posts, chapter books refers to any books with chapters. Those that are appropriate for teens are marked with an asterisk.

10 August 2016

Update on After the Ashes

It's been a year since friends of mine started sending me messages on Facebook that they had received their copy of After the Ashes in the mail.

I still have a hard time believing that a novel I wrote was published.

Since the official publication date in October, a great deal has happened to me.

I accepted a new job and moved to Indiana in December. That has been an adjustment, since I am certainly not a winter person.

But the good news is that After the Ashes received some recognition.

First, it was named to the National Science Teachers Association list of Outstanding Science Trade Books for Students K-12. That was a shock, because science was not my best subject in high school. I avoided it almost entirely in college. After the Ashes was one of only two fiction titles on the 52-title list. Other authors on that list are science writers I've been reading for years -- Cathryn Sill, Steve Jenkins, Robin Page, Sneed B. Collard III, Gail Gibbons, Sandra Markle, Sy Montgomery, and April Pulley Sayre. Marianne Dyson, one of the members of my former critique group in Texas was also on the list, so I am humbled by the company I'm in.

After the Ashes sharing a list with authors I admire.
Then, as if that weren't cool enough, it was also named to the Bank Street College of Education's Best Children's Books of the Year for ages twelve to fourteen! Once again, After the Ashes is sharing space on the list with amazing historical fiction authors like Avi, Melanie Crowder, Carolyn Meyer, Michael Morpurgo, and Pam Muñoz Ryan.

On top of the recognition, I even got to speak at the Wizard World Comic Con in Philadelphia with Marie Lamba and Genese Davis, who also arranged everything. That was incredible. I never in a million years thought I would be speaking at a comics convention.

I also participated in the B-Fest Teen Book Festival at my local Barnes & Noble. Although it was a small group in attendance, I talked about the research I did for After the Ashes, and it went well.

It has been quite a ride with After the Ashes. I hope to keep pushing forward. In the meantime, I'm working on another manuscript.