M. K. Theodoratus, Fantasy Writer, blogs about the books she reads--mostly fantasy and mystery authors whose books catch her eye and keep her interest. Nothing so formal as a book review, just chats about what she liked. Theodoratus also mutters about her own writing progress or ... lack of it.

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Tuesday, September 27, 2011

'Tis the Season: Ghost Story Review #1

 Mary Downing Hahn must be the Queen of chapter book ghost stories. Granted she writes more than ghost stories, but it's the ghost stories I keep running across in used book stores. Wish I could squeeze out the suspense from my stories like Hahn does. What's worse for the inferiority complex is that Hahn makes it look easy.

Picked up Wait Till Helen Comes at the farmer's market. Hahn takes her talent for combining kid's family problems like lost secrets and general friction, then combines them with more tension in the form of a ghost story. Her books may be "simple" chapter books, but the story is scary enough to raise chills in an adult. [Guilty.]

In this 1986 book, Hahn tells the story a blended family -- the mother with two older kids who are expected to take care of their step-dad's younger daughter who hides a heavy secret. All the kids are unhappy about moving to a new home, but the youngest feels picked on until she finds a "friend", Helen, who wants to take her to a hidden land where she'll be happy forever. Molly, the older step-sister, soon finds herself trying to "save" a step-sister who doesn't want to be "saved". Molly finds herself caught getting blamed for causing trouble because every time she tries to help, her step-sister twists events so Molly appears in the wrong.

One of the wonders of a good chapter book is that it has all the elements of a larger novel, but there isn't as much internal dialog, complicated settings, or description to get in the way of the core. An adult reader can easily follow the basic craft structure of a novel in Helen: the introduction of characters, the complication that emphasizes the danger a character's in, and the working out of a realistic the solution. On this simplified framework, Hahn creates a scary story with a warm and happy ending, a must for younger readers.

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Yeah, writing for kids is deceptive -- looks easy but ain't. I can remember how once I thought I'd write kid's books so I could finish one book in one year. Two tween books even sit in my computer waiting for revision. See how that idea got blasted out of the water? WolfSinger Press, also,  sort of distracted me and pulled me back into my Half-Elven world.

If you're having problems plotting your novels, you might study writers like Mary Downing Hahn who have a closet full of awards. The books are relatively short and uncluttered, making the pace of the structure easy to see.

Yeah, when I revise, I go back to this elementary drawing board. I find I can learn a lot from reviewing what I thought I knew.

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