Newsletter round-up for children’s book writers: June

1024 683 Writer and the Wolf Editorial

A round-up of the best advice, resources and links for middle grade and YA authors from all the (many, many) writing newsletters in my inbox each month. Find somebody’s tips or links useful or interesting? Sign up to their newsletter!

StoryGodmother Newsletter by Amy Sparkes

Read the StoryGodmother newsletter here.

Amy says you should ‘check in with every single one of your characters as you write’, asking what they want as the book moves along. Even if you don’t plan out your story in advance, understanding character motivation means the plot will start to make sense and unfold in a natural direction, because your character will take action based on their wants and reasons for those wants.

If you don’t check in regularly with your characters, they can sometimes start to feel dusty, stale and unfocussed. Even they may have forgotten why they wanted something in the first place. But keep talking to them, and keep listening to them, and they will become your best friends in creating the story.

Excellent advice!

The Kids are Alright by BookRiot

Read The Kids are Alright newsletter here.

Margaret Kingsbury at BookRiot recommends middle grade novel Villains Academy by Ryan Hammond, a funny illustrated series about monster school, and a bunch of LGBTQ+ picture books including Marley’s Pride by Joëlle Retener and Harper Becomes a Big Sister by Seamus Kirst.

Letters from the Labyrinth by Brian Keene

Read Letters from the Labyrinth here.

Brian responds to a reviewer who didn’t enjoy his “progressive stance on trans people”.

You don’t like “the insertion of modern American leftist views into the book, which always ruins the escapism”. One must assume, then, that you did not enjoy early science fiction, fantasy, horror, or comic books from, say 1930 through the 1990s. (Politics and social commentary informing fiction occurs way before that, obviously, but unless this reviewer is over 100 years old, I think we can safely go with that timeframe).

Art is Political, and even art that is produced for the commercial market (like mine) is Political, whether the artist consciously intended it to be or not. That’s because artists are human beings and human beings are Political. Even human beings who claim they are apolitical are Political. They just don’t understand what “Political” means, and think it has something to do with which party they’re registered with to vote.

My art is unabashedly commercial, but it has also always been Political, beginning with THE RISING and running through TERMINAL, DEAD SEA, and all the way to the aforementioned THE COMPLEX (which I personally think is my best novel). Hell, Donald Trump was the secondary villain in CITY OF THE DEAD, and that came out in 2005.

My writing has been political for a long time. I have no intention of stopping now. I don’t tell you how to vote, what to think, or what to believe. You don’t tell me what to write.

WordTips by Allen

Read WordTips here.

For those who like to put two spaces after a full stop in their writing, there’s a handy tip in this newsletter.

Should you put two spaces after a sentence or just one? Ask different people and you will get different answers. To Word the answer isn’t really important; it can help you enforce either type of spacing you want. This tip explains how.

You’ll need to click through to Allen’s article where he explains how to configure your Word settings to automate this spacing in future.

Editors Corner by ACES: The Society for Editing

Read Editors Corner here.

The newsletter ends with some fun links from around the web:

15 Fascinating Linguistics Terms You Didn’t Learn in School like amphiboly, snowclone and kangaroo words.

Recreational linguists have a name for words that contain their own synonyms: kangaroo words (because kangaroos carry their joeys in pouches). Rambunctious harbors raucousrespite has rest, and there’s ruin in destruction. In order to count as a true kangaroo word, the letters of the joey word must be ordered correctly in the parent word—i.e. you can’t do any unscrambling. You do have to remove letters from between the letters of the joey word, though; if there aren’t any, it doesn’t count. (E.g. belated and late and action and act are disqualified.)

How Many Words Are There in the English Language? Answer = around 750,000 at best guess

Trump likes the Oxford comma? That’s stunning, strange and disorientating

Fangoria by Fangoria Magazine

Read Fangoria here.

Phil Nobile Jr. discusses the urge to catalog and classify eras of pop culture and genre and explores how we might define the modern horror era.

Of course one movement bleeds into the next and it’s hard to know where one era stops and one starts, but from my seat the current age of horror started with The Babadook, a movie that played to a wider audience than its peers and was not only excellent, but ushered in an era of “themes on its sleeve” horror (for better or worse; most of your grief/trauma based horror of the last decade owes a debt to Jennifer Kent’s film). Two years later came Robert Eggers’ The Witch(I’m not typing it that other way), a film that helped cement A24’s brand identity as the house of smart, cool, horror. Completing the trilogy was Jordan Peele’s 2017 film Get Out, which won an Oscar for Best Screenplay (the same year as Guillermo del Toro’s Best Picture winner The Shape of Water) and did much to legitimize the genre to a mainstream audience (because, and this is not discussed enough, Peele’s masterpiece is a mainstream film through and through).

Horror, of course, does not come in these three flavors; there are a million colors of the dark. But to me, it seems this trio of films formed a vanguard that helped horror explode and thrive into the current age of genre. Each of these films, without question, changed what came after. Doors were opened; trends were chased; opportunities created. We’ve gotten a lot more good horror films and very possibly more bad horror films, but I don’t think it can be argued that we’ve got plain old MORE horror films. Two competing streaming services dedicated solely to horror. Maybe a dozen boutique Blu-ray labels keeping their heads above water releasing new and catalog genre films. It’s an embarrassment of riches right now, even if some of the offerings are just plain embarrassments.

But if it’s a golden age, when does it end? Or has it? And if it has, what’s next? I’m looking at the headlines in this newsletter and it feels like the various tendrils of horror are starting to coalesce into… I dunno; something. The next thing, maybe. Or maybe the last thing before the next thing. The writers of A Quiet Place are making what looks like a very A24 horror movie for A24. The writers of Happy Death Day and Freaky are scripting the next film from Josh Ruben, who’s gone from Shudder Original to studio gig in just a few short years. David Bruckner has moved from indie horror to Disney-backed franchise reboot to enigmatic A24 thriller. And that studio, built on original, taste-making horror, is currently planning to veer into Voorhees territory, despite recently parting ways with the guy who had their roadmap. Meanwhile, the filmmaker who helped forge their identity is over at Focus Features (a Comcast Company) making what looks like the most arthouse Nosferatu remake imaginable. What an age this is.

The Conscious Language Newsletter by the Conscious Style Guide

Read the Conscious Language Newsletter here.

There are some really interesting articles shared this month, including:

What’s Up in YA by BookRiot

Read What’s Up in YA here.

Kelly at BookRiot gives a rundown of her favourite 2024 YA releases with nonbinary characters:

If 10 years ago you’d asked for YA books featuring nonbinary characters, there would be very, very few. While there certainly aren’t boatloads now, the difference in just a decade is worth noting. You can not only find these books much more easily now, but they’re being promoted, shared, and championed. It’s refreshing and necessary.

Nonbinary is an umbrella category to describe people who don’t align their gender with either “male” or “female.” This is, of course, a huge simplification, as nonbinary folks can identify in a number of ways, including agender, bigender, demigender, genderqueer, genderfluid, multigender, polygender, and more. There is incredible and powerful nuance in gender identification.

For this roundup of 2024 nonbinary YA reads, I’ve stuck with the umbrella nonbinary definition to highlight some must-reads. This roundup isn’t comprehensive–again, wild to be able to say that because it used to be impossible to find three easily!!–but I hope you’ll start here and continue your exploration of incredible books featuring characters who identify outside binary. I’ve included a range of genres.

She lists Daniel, Deconstructed by James Ramos, The Diablo’s Curse by Gabe Cole Novoa, Have You Seen This Girl by Nita Tyndall, Okay Cupid by Mason Deaver, Otherworldly by F.T. Lukens, They Bloom at Night by Trang Thanh Tran and They Thought They Buried Us by NoNieqa Ramos.

Agents + Books by Kate McKean

Read Agents + Books here.

Agent Kate shares some home truths about publishing in an attempt to help writers chill out about the process and not believe every good news story they here:

If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Oh, did they get a deal in six seconds for seven figures? Surely not. Did that publisher send that author on a 27 city tour, first class all the way? If so, the publisher didn’t pay for it. I know you swear the person who told you heard it straight from a person who heard it from another person who heard it from the source. Was it also a thing at your college that the architect forgot to account for the weight of the books and the library is sinking into the ground? Yeah, mine too.

Write Mentor by Stuart White

Read Write Mentor here.

Stuart talks about ‘choosing your hard’ and making good writing decisions for future you.

For example, the football is on just now most evenings. Now, when faced with a choice, usually after a long day at work and an energy-sapping battle to put my youngest to bed (apparently they have the same energy levels as elite athletes and I can BELIEVE IT!), I will just flop down and watch a game. I like football a moderate amount, but it’s not something that’s super important to me, like my writing is.

Yet, I take that easy option most nights just now, knowing that by the end of the tournament, or this summer, I will regret that and my life will be harder as a result, as I’ll need to write way more words, much more quickly to get my books written.

So I am choosing to make my life harder later on. Kicking that can down the road, and making it a problem (and a bigger one!) for future-Stuart!

He will NOT be happy!

So I guess the point of this post is simply this – when you find yourself with a spare 20 minutes this week, will you choose to do the hard thing now, and make your life easier later, or will you be like me, and take that lovely, cosy little dopamine hit of an instant gratification win, fully in the knowledge that you’re creating a harder life for yourself down the line!

Every Day is Halloween by Lisa Morton

Read Every Day is Halloween.

Lisa discusses the tricky task of naming and describing your fictional characters:

Finding those attributes can be crucial to how readers perceive your fictitious people. If you’re lead is a character born in 2005, do you really want to name her Mabel? Should your brooding killer really be described as having a baby face?

I’m always astonished when I read a story in which a character is described as looking like some celebrity; that feels a little sloppy on the part of the writer, doesn’t it?

I’m much likelier to picture my characters as resembling someone I know or have met in person. When it comes to naming a character, I might google names based on the character’s date or place of birth; I also try to think about that character’s parents. Were they hippies who named their kids after trees? Did they revere some distant great-grandparent, or historical figure?

I might be a bit more blunt when it comes to last names. Real life, after all, often surprises me with names like Butcher for a doctor (that really was the name of my first dentist).

Thanks so much for reading, lovely writer! Want empowering, feel-good writing chat and fairy dust in your inbox? Plus receive a PDF of my recommended writing craft books for children’s and YA writers (including go-to genre guides and Children’s Lit MA reading list) AND £20 Wolf Credit to spend with me! Sign up today!

Siobhan O'Brien Holmes

Siobhan O'Brien Holmes is a developmental editor working with middle grade and YA authors. She specialises in speculative and genre fiction, particularly horror, fantasy, mystery, sci-fi and anything with a dash of magic or macabre. She is a member of the SfEP, EFA, ACES, British Fantasy Society, Horror Writers Association and SCBWI. She has an MA in Novel Writing and an MA in Children's Literature.

All stories by: Siobhan O'Brien Holmes