Thursday, April 25, 2013

Claire Legrand's Newest Masterpiece, The Year of Shadows!


Middle Grade Fantasy
Hardcover, 416 Pages

This book was a first for me- it was my first ARC, which stands for Advanced Reading Copy. This means that I got to read Claire’s book before its release to the public! Exciting!!

Let me tell you, I was a little unsure how this book would hit me- I mean, Claire’s first book, The Cavendish Home for Boys and Girls, instantly became one of my favorites and I was curious how this one would stack up against it.

I already knew that Claire had a knack for the weird and creepy- her book and her short stories that she writes for the Cabinet of Curiosities are evidence of that. But this one showcases another of her skills- the ability to tug at heart-strings. Actually, let me be honest, this one didn’t tug at them, it YANKED them and made me cry…more than once. Now, I don’t usually like crying, but I have to admit, she made me realize that some stories are worth crying for. It's not sad though- it has it all, humor, suspense, the works!

Olivia Stellatella is one unhappy little gothling. Her mom left, her dad, the Maestro, puts her and her grandmother on the back burner while he spends every shred of money and energy he has on saving a failing orchestra. If it weren’t for her drawings or the cat that adopts her, she’d have nothing. Until something unusual happens- the ghosts appear.

The music hall, where they live backstage, is haunted. When they show themselves in a strange and terrifying display, Olivia’s life becomes interesting and she has something other than anger to focus on. But when she and a boy named Henry agree to help the ghosts “move on”, things get complicated. After all, when your friends are dead, life is anything but ordinary.

I won't spoil it for you, but rest assured, through a process of accepting her fate, learning to say goodbye, and struggling to forgive, Olivia’s life becomes something worth living.

Genuine. Endearing. Beautiful. Those are the words I would use to describe this story.

Available for sale in hardback and as an eBook on August 27, 2013 from Simon and Schuster.

TAGS: Claire Legrand, Ghosts, Haunted Places, Orchestra, Father/Daughter Relationships, Family

While you are waiting for this book from Claire LeGrand, read her debut novel, The Cavendish Home for Boys and Girls! I need to give it a separate review, and I will. Until then, take my word for it- it's AWESOME!!

Happy Reading!

Monday, April 8, 2013

Say What? How to Make Your Writing Clearer

Image courtesy of digitalart at

As a parent, of small children, I'm constantly trying to make myself heard and understood. Also, like most parents, I'm constantly repeating the words, "no," "don't," "stop," and-- "I already said no!"

Then one day I heard this piece of advice. Children hear you better if you speak in the positive. Huh? What kind of loony new age thing is this?

Basically, it's a way to phrase yourself. Instead of saying, "don't run with a sharp ax", you say, "walk." Instead of saying "don't touch my house of cards," say, "keep your hands down."
Image courtesy of Boaz Yiftach at

So I tried it. And it worked! (when they follow directions, that is) My goal became clear, I have a quarter second of their attention and who knows what I'll be saying when that 1/4 second comes around, so every word has to convey the right idea. If I say "no running" and all they hear is "running," guess who is going to keep running? That's right. But if I say "walk", then we have no issue.

We should always strive to make ourselves easily understood as parents, writers, people. Writers, like parents, also have precious few moments to urge our audience to move forward in the story and wasted words are a great way to wear them out before we get to the punchline.

Image courtesy of Maggie Smith at

There are a few subtle ways to clean up your writing to convey the story so the writing is clean, comprehensible, and easily digested. After all, we want our audience to get lost in our words, not wonder why there's so many unnecessary ones.

First, use the positive form. When you're writing, make your statements assertive. Using the negative form of writing sounds weaker, less committed.

Example: He was not usually the good looking one.  Change it to: He was usually the ugly one. See how it changes the tone?

Second, use an active voice. Like the positive form, this is clearer and has more of an impact. You want your writing to turn heads, not fuel naps.

Example (and one from my own personal manuscript- oops):
Her clothes were hung according to weather and hue. The clothes are the doing the action here- lame and darn near impossible. Change it to: She hung her clothes according to weather and hue.

Third, get rid of the really, really, just there because you'd use it in real life words. Just because you say it when you're on the phone with your sister doesn't mean it should be written that way.

Example: The guy with the really cool bike was so rich. Unless you're like, writing the screen play for Clueless II, let's not. Change to: The guy with the custom Harley was a billionaire.

Fourth, KILL the adverbs. This is like a game. Find an adverb, wield your 'delete' button or red pen like a sword, and KILL IT! But, you need the adverb? Then your verb isn't strong enough on its own. Find a better one.

Example: She snottily stuck out her tongue as he walked away. You don't have to tell us she's snotty. The action tells us that. Simply omit the adverb. Or, if there was an unusual way she did it, with hatred or malice, show it in the verb, such as: She stabbed out her tongue as he walked away. Ouch.

This is a short list of things that can make your writing transition from convoluted to clear. In every story, there are things to consider when you make edits. Style, dramatic effect, character traits, and using vocabulary and writing style are just a couple of your tools for manipulating these elements.

One thing to consider, and the exception to nearly every rule, is dialog. When characters are speaking, these rules are often broken, for good cause. If it is part of our character's personality, then perhaps the rules must be broken to allow the reader to understand their nuances. And that's okay.

Ultimately, we have the power and right to scribe whatever words we want onto the paper. No lightening will strike, your English teacher will not rap on your door and give your manuscript an F. But, for those of us that enjoy reaching our readers, these elements help them see past the words to the story that inspired them.

For more tips, please read the small, digestible, and infinitely helpful tool, The Elements of Style, by William Strunk, Jr. and E. B. White.