October 25, 2015
It’s almost November, so I’m getting ready for NaNoWriMo, National Novel Writing Month. For the past several years, I’ve used this month as a time to revise and polish on-going writing projects. But The Stepsisters (my steampunk Cinderella) and A Mobius Tale (my Snow White with a twist story) are in fine shape, so it’s time to introduce my new project:
The Little MERmaid
This story has been percolating in my mind for many months, and I’m excited to use NaNoWriMo to begin writing it. The Little MERmaid is a steampunk version of the Hans Christian Andersen tale. My main character is a coal-mine automaton, a MER (Mechanical Emergency Responder) who becomes human after seeking help from the mischievous Prince of the Elves (a character from my Snow White story). She has one year in which to make a certain boy fall in love with her–if he doesn’t, she’ll return to her automaton form and be made into scrap metal. Intrigued? My story is more similar to the Andersen version than the Disney version, but with the steampunk elements, it’s my story now.
November is a busy time of the year for me, so I don’t anticipate finishing a first draft. But, with NaNoWriMo, I’ll keep track of my word count, and I’ll get lots of support from other writers. If you’ve never participated in NaNoWriMo, you should visit the website. November wouldn’t be November without NaNoWriMo!
September 30, 2015
Comprehension Questions for Because of Winn-Dixie by Kate DiCamillo
1. Who was making a mess in the grocery store?
2. What did Opal name the dog?
1. What job does Opal’s father have?
2. Why does Opal’s father let her keep the dog?
1. What does Opal do to clean Winn-Dixie?
2. How are Opal and Winn-Dixie alike?
3. Why does Opal ask her father to tell her ten things about her mother?
1. What are the ten things Opal learns about her mother?
1. What does Winn-Dixie do when he is left alone?
2. What does Winn-Dixie do with the mouse when he catches it?
3. What does the preacher do?
1. Why does Winn-Dixie scare Miss Franny?
2. Does Miss Franny let Winn-Dixie come into the library?
1. What did Miss Franny get for her birthday when she was a girl?
2. What did the bear take with him when he left?
1. How is Opal going to get the money for Winn-Dixie’s collar and leash?
2. What does the parrot Gertrude do to show she likes Winn-Dixie?
1. What does Gloria give Opal and Winn-Dixie to eat?
2. Is Gloria Dump a witch? Describe Gloria.
1. What kind of tree does Opal plant?
2. Where does Winn-Dixie sleep?
1. What is Winn-Dixie afraid of?
2. What is a “pathological fear” ?
1. What happens when Otis plays his guitar and sings?
1. What three places does Opal go to every day?
2. Who thinks the Dewberry boys want to be friends with Opal?
1. Why did Gloria hang bottles in a tree?
2. How does Gloria say you should judge people?
1. What does Winn-Dixie do when Miss Franny has a fit?
1. What happened to Littmus’s home and family during the war?
1. What did Littmus do to bring something sweet to the world?
2. What do Littmus Lozenges taste like?
1. What book does Opal read to Gloria?
2. Who is Carson and what happened to him?
3. What does “melancholy” mean?
1. Why did Otis go to jail?
2. What does the Littmus Lozenge taste like to Sweetie Pie?
1. Who are the 7 people Opal invites to the party at Gloria Dump’s house?
1. What food and drink do Gloria and Opal make for the party?
2. What does Miss Franny bring?
3. What does Sweetie Pie bring?
4. What does Otis bring?
1. What 4 things does the preacher thank God for?
1. When it starts raining, what does Opal forget?
1. Why does the preacher cry?
2. Does the preacher think Opal’s mama will come back?
3. What did Opal’s mama leave behind went she left?
1. Where was Winn-Dixie?
2. What happens when Winn-Dixie smiles real big?
1. What does Opal tell her mother under the mistake tree?
2. What is everyone doing when the story ends?
September 29, 2015
1. Describe the place where Dorothy lives (use three details).
2. What does Dorothy do when the house is being carried by the tornado?
1. Who does Dorothy’s house kill?
2. What surrounds the land of Oz and prevents Dorothy from easily returning to Kansas?
3. Why does the Witch of the North kiss Dorothy?
1. What does Dorothy do to get ready for her long journey to the Emerald City?
2. What is the favorite color of the people of Munchkinland?
3. What does the Scarecrow hope to get from the Wizard?
1. Is the Scarecrow able to scare crows?
2. Who tells the Scarecrow that he will only be as good as a real man if he has a brain?
1. What does the Tin Woodman hope to get from the Wizard?
2. Why is the Tin Woodman made of tin? Explain the whole story.
1. How does Dorothy protect Toto from the Lion?
2. What does the Lion hope to get from the Wizard?
1. How do they cross the two large ditches in the road? Who has these ideas?
2. What happens with the Kalidahs?
1. How does the raft get out of the current and to the other side of the river?
2. How is the Scarecrow rescued from the pole in the river?
3. Why are the poppy flowers dangerous?
1. Who does the Tin Woodman save by killing the wildcat?
2. How is the Lion saved from the field of Poppies?
1. What must everyone wear before entering the Emerald City gates?
2. What does the wizard look like to Dorothy, to the Scarecrow, to the Tin Woodman and to the Lion?
3. What does the wizard ask them to do before he will help them?
1. What happens when the Witch’s wolves try to kill Dorothy and her friends?
2. What happens when the Witch’s crows try to kill Dorothy and her friends?
3. What happens when the Witch’s bees try to kill Dorothy and her friends?
4. What happens when the Winkies try to capture Dorothy and her friends?
5. What happens when the Winged Monkeys attack Dorothy and her friends?
6. How does Dorothy kill the Wicked Witch?
1. How are the Tin Woodman and Scarecrow rescued?
2. What does Dorothy find in a cupboard and take with her when they leave?
1. How do the friends return to the Emerald City?
2. What trick did the Winged Monkeys do to Quelala?
3. What punishment did Queen Gayelette give the monkeys for their trick?
1. Who is the Great Oz really?
2. How did the he get to the land of Oz?
1. How does the wizard give the Scarecrow a brain?
2. How does the wizard give the Tin Woodman a heart?
3. How does the wizard give the Lion courage?
1. How does the wizard plan to take Dorothy back to Kansas?
2. What goes wrong?
3. Who will rule Emerald City after the wizard leaves?
1. Why can’t the Winged Monkeys fly Dorothy to Kansas?
2. Who might be able to help Dorothy?
3. Where does she live?
1. What stops the travelers from going through the trees?
2. How do they solve this problem?
1. What is on the other side of the wall?
2. Why won’t the china princess go with Dorothy to Kansas?
1. Why did the animals of the forest call a meeting?
2. How does the Lion kill the monster?
1. How do the armless Hammer-Heads keep people out of their country?
2. How do Dorothy and her friends get past the Hammer-Heads?
1. What will each of Dorothy’s friends (the Scarecrow, the Tin Woodman and the Lion) do after Dorothy leaves?
2. How does Dorothy get back to Kansas?
3. What happens to the Silver Shoes?
1. What does Aunt Em do when she sees Dorothy?
2. Is Dorothy happy to be home?
September 14, 2015
I usually post here the books that my students will be reading each semester. I’ve changed things up a bit, which means a lot of extra (and fun) reading for me. We focus on middle-grade books, for children ages 8 to 12.
We start with fairy tales. All students must read Charles Perrault’s “Cinderella” and the Grimm brothers’ “Aschenputtel”. Then, they choose two versions of one other fairy tale to read.
Everyone is required to read The Wizard of Oz by L.Frank Baum.
Next, students choose one book from each genre:
Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White
The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan
The BFG by Roald Dahl
Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine
Among the Hidden by Margaret Peterson Haddix
One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate
Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson
Esperanza Rising by Pam Munoz Ryan
Bud Not Buddy by Christopher Paul Curtis
Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O’Dell
Al Capone Does My Shirts by Gennifer Choldenko
Contemporary / Realistic Fiction:
The Lemonade War by Jacqueline Davies
Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing by Judy Blume
Ungifted by Gordon Korman
Rules by Cynthia Lord
Love that Dog by Sharon Creech
Out of the Dust by Karen Hesse
I usually re-read every book I assign before the literature circles meet. I’ve got some work cut out for this semester. It’s great to have a job that requires me to read and re-read great books. I’m so lucky!
August 20, 2015
The news, my Facebook and Twitter feeds, even the people I talk to, all demonstrate and discuss what is wrong with the world. Change won’t occur if people are unaware of the problems, the disasters, and the corruption in the world. We need to know. We need to know, so we can work to make the world better. But from time to time, we all need a big breath of beautiful.
Follow Kate DiCamillo on Facebook. Kate posts infrequently, but every post is like a soul cleansing shower. She notices the beauty in the world and shares it in words witty and wise.
If you know of other short bits of shared beauty like Kate’s posts, please mention them in the comments below.
I’ve always enjoyed escaping to a fantasy world where good behavior is rewarded and bad behavior punished. I prefer the stories in which it is mildly punished, and the perpetrators forgiven and allowed a reformed life. Revenge is dirt on the soul. So, I find many of the original tales too dark. I love the modern re-tellings and fairy tales. Here are a few I’ve read recently and enjoyed:
Gail Carson Levine’s Ella Enchanted
Wendy Mass’ Twice Told Tales
Marissa Meyers’ The Lunar Chronicles
Anne Ursu’s The Real Boy
Kate di Camillo’s A Tale of Despereaux
Laura Amy Schlitz’ Splendors and Glooms
Maggie Stiefvater’s The Scorpio Races
Gregory Maguire’s Egg and Spoon
L. Frank Baum’s The Wizard of Oz and all his Oz books
The evil in the world can seem overwhelming. We can feel utterly powerless when confronted with it. This is why I write. In my head and on the computer screen, I create a world of problems. Then I solve them. I give my characters resolution and happy endings.
The problems of the world will find you. You don’t have to look.
Happiness can seem elusive and fragile, but it exists and it is strong. You must go looking for it. Your soul-cleansing places may be different than mine. Seek them out. And when you find them,
take a Big Breath of Beautiful
July 17, 2015
Within the last two weeks, I read two books about Christian missionaries traveling to alien worlds. I recommend them both. Both are works of fantasy, yet both are grounded in reality, providing wonderful character studies and handling deep philosophical questions.
In The Book of Strange New Things by Michel Faber, Peter, an English pastor, is chosen by a powerful multi-national corporation to act as a missionary to the Oasans, people on a planet newly colonized by earth. Peter must leave his beloved wife, Bea, and their cat, Jacob. Bea introduced Peter to Christianity and their marriage has been one of deep love and total companionship. The difficulty of their separation and what it does to their relationship is one of the main focuses of the novel. The “aliens” that Peter ministers to are thirsty for knowledge of Christ, and we wonder why. We also wonder about the powerful muti-national corporation and its motivation for sending Peter. And what about the previous pastor who disappeared? And the linguist who taught the natives English and also disappeared? While the novel is suspenseful, it isn’t action-packed. The stress on Peter and Bea’s relationship also causes stress on their faith, and this is where the book excels. Its examination of love and faith in crisis is fascinating.
The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell is also an examination of faith. Father Emilio Sandoz had it and lost it: why? Father Emilio Sandoz is one of a crew of Jesuit missionaries sent toward Alpha Centauri after radio signals demonstrate that intelligent life exists on a planet in that area of space. Sandoz is the only survivor of the mission. The book alternates between “past” and “present.” In present day, Sandoz is being interrogated by the Jesuits to discover what went wrong. He is accused of some horrible crimes. In alternate chapters, we learn about the discovery of the radio signals, the recruitment of the crew (all wonderful characters, that we readers fall in love with; Sandoz being the most wonderful), the trip across space, until the past meets up with Sandoz’s confessions. What went wrong? How did everyone die? How did Sandoz “go bad” ? This book has action, great characterization, and incredible world building. The author, Mary Doria Russell, has a PhD in biological anthropology, and uses her knowledge well. The development of the setting on the new planet–the cultures and languages and interactions of the races–is brilliant and probably my favorite part of the book.
I was disappointed by the endings of both books. However….
After thinking about the ending of The Book of Strange New Things for several days, I changed my mind. It ends exactly how it should. I didn’t “get” it at first, but I do now.
The Sparrow puts so much emphasis on what went wrong, what horrible thing happened, that its discovery was anti-climactic for me. I still recommend the book.
I highly recommend both books. So, get reading!
June 5, 2015
The Writer’s Voice/Pitch Wars competition featured many talented writers with intriguing concepts. I did not make a team, but I wish good luck to those who did and to their coaches. You can follow the competition at Brenda Drake’s blog.
Many conversations about the contest were on twitter, and I didn’t want to miss out, so I set up a twitter account:
Follow me if you do that sort of thing.
New to twitter, I did a lot of lurking so as not to mess up or offend anyone (sorry if I have!)
Immediately, I learned about #PitMad, a day in which writers pitch their completed novels in 140 characters, all day long. Wow! I should have gotten on twitter a long time ago!
I participated in #PitMad and had some success getting noticed. I’ll be sending out queries over the next few days.
So, though I “lost” on Writer’s Voice, I’m still a winner!
May 21, 2015
Dear Krista, Brenda, Mónica, and Elizabeth,
Ever wonder why Cinderella’s stepsisters were so mean? They’ve been misunderstood. THE STEPSISTERS is a young adult, steampunk Cinderella told in alternating first person by the stepsisters. It is complete at 55,000 words.
Drusilla “Dru” is a mildly autistic, scientifically-minded teen who doesn’t use pronouns. When her father dies, she vows to complete all his laboratory plans and projects. Dru’s younger sister Charlotte “Lottie” is a social fashionista who grieves the death of her father and the loss of the family fortune. Their mother re-marries to save the family from poverty, and they move to a two-room farmhouse where their stepsister Cyntia Rellah runs a messenger pigeon service.
The Rellah farm is near the country palace of the King and Queen, who are expecting a child. For centuries the Royalty of Jacobia have been born with weak hearts because of an ancient curse. A special medicine is no longer available, so the King brings Dru to the royal laboratory to finish her father’s work: discover a new medicine or create a mechanical heart for an infant. As the day of birth draws near, Dru must complete the invention her father began or else the child won’t survive.
Impressed by Lottie’s sense of fashion and magical aura, the Queen entangles her in a quest to find and kill the descendant of the sorceress who placed the curse. Lottie must choose between saving her family or serving the Queen.
The traditional Cinderella tropes are used and transformed in this tale of magic, science and romance.
I teach children’s literature at the University of Wisconsin, Stevens Point. My adult historical novel, SYNCOPATION: A MEMOIR OF ADELE HUGO was published by Cornerstone Press in 2012. My middle-grade mystery, THE STOLEN GOLDIN VIOLIN, was self-published in 2010. I am a member of SCBWI, AWP and the Historical Novels Society.
Thank you for your time and consideration.
FIRST 250 WORDS:
The gondola of the luxury airship Ludtwidge sways gently beneath its hydrogen-filled webwrought balloon. Pilot Brijit Eyre studies the darkness out the bridge window and taps the barometer. Something’s off. She can feel it in the air, in her bones.
“Betti, change course 5 degrees north-northwest. Alec, get a mech-pigeon ready.”
Captain Eyre flips a valve. Steam hisses through a pipe, moving the engine to full throttle.
The Ludtwidge uses a Steppe steam engine. Instead of creating steam by burning coal or gas, Steppe engines use the flameless heat of firestones. A vast improvement over past airship engines. Flame and hydrogen are a deadly combination.
In the largest cabin of the Ludtwidge, inventor Sir Ernest Steppe lies on his bunk, melting into sleep.
His daughter Dru holds her hat, which begins to fly. She yells at Ernest. No, it isn’t Dru. It’s the Queen. She’s angry at Ernest. He hasn’t done what he should’ve done. Is it about Dru’s engagement to the Prince? He dreads explaining the situation to his wife. The Queen expands to twice her size. Her red hair ignites into flames. She leans over—
Ernest wakes when his body hits the floor. The airship’s gondola rocks. The floor tilts. He slides from one side of the cabin to the other.
Ernest grabs the porthole’s raised edges and pulls himself up. Rain pelts the glass. Lighting flickers in the distance. Thunder rumbles.
Ernest puts on his shoes and heads to the engine room.