Sunday, June 29, 2014

Read this now: Flora and Ulysses

I'll keep this simple: If you have a 7-11 year old you read to, you must immediately buy Kate DiCamillo's Flora and Ulysses: The Illuminated Adventures.  Or borrow it.  Or steal it.  Whichever.  Regardless, it's fantastic.

Flora Belle Buckman is a ten-year-old who loves comic books, adventures, and learning random facts.  Her life changes when she witnesses a squirrel being sucked into a vacuum cleaner.  Flora rescues the squirrel and soon discovers the traumatic incident has not only given the squirrel, soon named Ulysses, super strength and the ability to fly, but also a love of poetry.  The book is about Flora's relationships with her new squirrel friend, the odd boy next door who claims he's blind when he's not, and her recently-separated parents.  It's magical, fun, and beautifully written.  It gave me that "damn, I wish I wrote that" feeling.  The book also contains a handful of awesomely illustrated pages, drawn in comic form, as seen below.  Seriously, read this book to your child.  He or she will love it.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

We Need to Talk About Andrew Smith

There's a heinous crime being committed in the world of writing today, and it's this--Andrew Smith isn't selling millions of books.

Okay, that's hyperbole--No, not pronounced hyper-bowl, as my sophomores like to say--but I'm convinced Smith is The Guy right now in YA.  Or at least he should be.  Want proof?

Let's look at Grasshopper Jungle for a minute.

It's a book about what it's like to be a horny, confused teenage boy growing up in the middle of nowhere.  Oh, that sounds common?  What if you add six-foot-tall praying mantises?  Exactly.  It's brilliant.  It's if Salinger and Vonnegut hooked up to write a novel together.  It's brilliantly honest, intelligent, and probably the most accurate telling of what goes on in a 16-year-old's mind.  At least what went through my mind when I was 16.  Minus the praying mantises.

Or Winger.  Jesus, Winger. First, best cover of the year, okay?  Let's just put that to rest right now.
Winger is a novel about a fourteen-year-old at private school living in a dorm for troublemakers.  He's struggling to find his identity, woo his best friend, and survive on the rugby field.  Smith's achievement here is in Winger's voice, which is perfect.  In fact, come fall, I'll be using it as an example of my students on how to loosen up their stilted writing and let fly with how they're really feeling.  And that conclusion?  Man, it's a killer.  Something tells me Chris Crutcher (my favorite YA author ever) would approve.  This is pretty much the book that when I finished I thought, "That's what I want to be able to write."

Still not convinced?  Then there's this--Smith seems like a damn good guy.  I say this because when I've gone to him with writing questions or for advice, he gives it freely and balls out.  I don't think I've ever had another writer be so blunt, honest, and motivating all at the same time.  Smith's also a high school English teacher like me, so he has to going for him, too.

Oh, and then there's his awesome piece over at the Nerdy Book Club about who he writes for and why.  Trust me, it's fantastic.

I'm not sure what else I can say.  Go buy either of these books. Hell, go buy both of them.  Smith has a bunch of others, too, and for the life of me I can't figure out how he's so prolific.  Cloning, maybe.  But seriously, this is a guy to support.  I think we all secretly love it when we catch onto something before it becomes Huge.  We take pride in being able to complain, "I liked ____ before it was cool and popular."  Smith's not an unknown by any means, but if there's any justice in the world, he's going to be huge.

Thus ends the lesson for the day.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Items of Note

Item #1 - Good news! Eight agents currently have The Water Tower 5.  Are they reading it yet?  I don't know.  But they will at some point, and that's the first step, right?  Followed by representation and world domination.  Simple.  :)

Item #2 - I finished Stephen King's Mr. Mercedes yesterday, and while I enjoyed the heck out of it, I found it really, really, really odd that he chose to have the protagonist on the sidelines for the final confrontation.  In fact, it was all sort of a 'meh' confrontation at that.  Lots of build up to an antagonist not fighting back, which is just odd, right?  This is a bit concerning since reading Dr. Sleep last year and thinking it was a book almost devoid of any real conflict.  I guess I've always just expected more oomph and stakes in a King novel.

Item #3 - Erin Jade Lange's Butter...the more time passes after reading this novel, the more I like it.  Butter is a great character, and Lange is the first author I can think of who has a main character buddying up to jerks and the popular crowd because he needs acceptance.  That's a hard story to tell successfully, but she makes it look easy.  I'm jealous in the best ways possible.

Item #4 - And this is why we all should bow at the awesome altar of Andrew W. Smith--  More on this tomorrow.

Monday, June 23, 2014

The New Query

So after doing the heavy revision, I had to rewrite the original query letter.  It wasn't that the query letter was bad, it was just inaccurate to the new draft.  I've posted it below just for the sake of semi-transparency.  It's a fairly standard query, but it's received some requests for fulls, and that's all that matters, right?


Dear ________,

Seventeen-year-old Max Lewis may be a high school nobody, but he’s also a heist film expert who’s memorized their strategies, tactics, and cons.  It’s a good thing, too, because Max has just been framed by the mysterious Chaos Club for vandalizing the town water tower.  Humiliated and angry, Max does what any budding mastermind with nothing to lose would do--he plots payback.

Using his heist film knowledge, Max recruits a crew made up four other prank victims to form The Water Tower 5.  The goal?  Destroy the Chaos Club.  But how do you eliminate an organization with an anonymous membership capable of trapping cows on the school roof and assembling stolen desks into a giant phallus on the football field?  By relying on what Max does best--scheming, scamming, and swindling.

The Water Tower 5 draws the Chaos Club out of hiding by implicating them in a series of pranks involving precision vomiting and R-rated pictures of the school mascot.   But it’s not like the Chaos Club is just going to let a bunch of nobodies take them down without a fight.  Soon, Max finds himself arrested, suspended, and even worse, dealing with an angry girlfriend.  With summer only days away, can Max devise a caper ingenious enough to clear his name and expose the Chaos Club?  (Hint: Possibly, but it’s going to take a hell of a lot of weather balloons.)

THE WATER TOWER 5 is a contemporary YA novel (81,000 words) combining the underdog qualities of Frank Porter’s King Dork, the offbeat relationships of The Breakfast Club, and the capers of Ocean’s 11.  My short fiction has appeared in numerous print publications including 2010’s The Year’s Best Dark Fantasy and Horror.

Thank you for your time and consideration,

Kurt Dinan

Friday, June 20, 2014

Post-Birthday Update

Okay, so I don't have anything important to pass on, but since I have the time, so here I am.

1.  I spent the last three months doing a hard revision on The Water Tower 5 that cut 13K from the original manuscript and really gets the book moving much faster.  It's also a much better, tighter book.  It's now out to agents so we'll see how that goes.

2. I'm in this weird in-between place where I'm not sure what to work on.  I have sequel ideas for The Water Tower 5, but if that novel doesn't get rep'd or sold, what would be the point in working on a sequel.  At the same time, I could start a new novel that I have the idea for but I don't want to get too far into that and have to stop because: A. an agent wants a rewrite of TW5,  B. I'm told by an agent to start working on the sequel, and/or C. okay, there is no C, but I don't want to go back and change this sentence.

So rather than do either of these, I've decided to revisit Lucky Town, which now that I'm 3 years removed from it, I'm in a much clearer place to really overhaul that novel.  I have some good ideas to make it a stronger novel, and it'll be a fun project.  I still love that story, flaws and all.

3.  Oh and currently five agents have The Water Tower 5, and one has the first fifty pages.  Fingers crossed.  There are queries still out there, so we'll see what happens.

Man, I used the word "so" a lot in this post.