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.


Monday, November 3, 2014

Some Lessons We Can Learn from Middle-Grade Fiction in This Political Season

Product DetailsI'm reviewing a couple of kids books this week. One from digging into my to-read pile -- Across Five Aprils by Irene Hunt. But bookstores still lure me into them, and the other came from a new used bookstore in town. Believe it or not, I discovered a book by Diane Wynne Jones I hadn't read, Dogsbody. One's a nice little fantasy about the star Sirius being condemned to a quest on Earth, and the other is Civil War historical fiction.

Surprise. Surprise. Both had the same moral. People should be nice to people. Of course that's an over simplification ... but the statement stands.

Across Five Aprils, a middle-grade book published in 1965, traces the effects of the American Civil War on a family left behind when the three older sons go off to fight, two for the Union and one for the Rebs. The growing up of Jethro, the youngest boy, is the focus of the book. At the beginning, he's a child hero-worshiping his schoolteacher, his parents and other worthies. At the end, he has assumed the responsibility of keeping the farm going, even though he's only thirteen at the end of the war, and recognizes the weaknesses and strengths of the adults around him.

The book's quality is testified to by its being a Newberry Award Honor Book in 1965. That being said, the book is written in an omniscient, telling style that is no longer in fashion. The the writing itself is beautiful in its descriptions and characterizations. The horrors of war are alluded to, but it's the problems rural people faced that make up the plot line and growth of the main character. Not at all what current readers expect nowadays as shown by the many anonymous one-star ratings from school kids.

II give this charming, heartfelt family drama 5*****. Must confess I feel a little redundant with my stars, but I review only the best books I read.

Dogsbody Diana Wynne Jones is another master writer, of middle-grade fantasy this time instead of realistic history. Her Dogsbody is a little know gem that more people than me have discovered unexpectedly. The dog star Sirius is framed for the murder of a celestial being and condemned to Earth to live in a dog's body until he recovers a missing magical weapon. If he doesn't, he's doomed to die a dog on Earth.

The depictions of relationships in a human family from a dog's point of view are marvelous. Even the cats get important time in the narrative. Sirius is adopted by Kathleen, an Irish girl who's sent to live on sufferance with her uncle when her Irish father goes to prison during "The Troubles". The book traces Sirius' growth from a confused puppy to a mature dog who remembers who his once was. Sounds trite, but the reactions of the many three-dimensional characters react to each other make the story. Even the magical beings come across as individuals.

Another 5*****, but then Wynne Jones is one of the writers I reread repeatedly.


Still revising The Ghostcrow. Seems monotonous but it's a necessity for writing a publishable book. Know lots of people publish their first or second drafts. Wish they wouldn't. It gives self-published books a bad name. So I revise and get beta readers and copy editors trying to present the best possible e-story. Not only am I rewriting the text, but I've changed the title too. It's now Ghostcrow Awakening, but the cover still needs to be revised.

Actually, I'm rewriting more than Ghostcrow Awakening. Decided I was getting too many sample downloads with a low percentage of buys for Taking Vengeance, a prequel to a Far Isles Half-Elven novel sitting in my computer. Here's a sample of the rough draft of my new opening:

          The cadaverous hand snaked out from the bed cupboard against the wall of the old fashioned dug-in house. Blue veins roped against the bones as it grasped the door opening, and a grizzled head peered around the corner.
After coughing, the raspy voice scolded. “Why the blazes are you wasting time coming here, my lady?”
Mariah del Este, once a powerful warrior chieftain during the Half-Elven Rebellion, swallowed the tears she refused to shed. Her mind’s eye covered Werthen’s cadaverous frame with her memories of his standing tall in his stirrups and plowing through their Suthron enemies at the head of his squad, swinging his swords left and right. As the Suthron heads rolled, his magic was still strong enough to shield his squad from their would-be conquerors arrows. Now his skills were not strong enough to defeat death.
“Would you believe I came to visit an old goat?” Her nose wrinkled. “Faugh, you even smell like one.”
          “Who cares? Just as long some gnat isn’t buzzing in your head about healing me. I’m dying. No two ways about it.” 
This bit is just going to be added onto the beginning of the currently published story. Maybe I'll get more buys since there's a battle scene within three pages. Did you find the glaring edit that has to be done.

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