Building a Charmingly Twisted World

Author, Jenny Goebel, will tell you she’s led a charmed life. But when you get to know her, you quickly understand her life has little to do with luck and everything to do with Jenny. She’s sweet, kind, caring and – most of all – talented. Today she’s talking about world building and her latest novel FORTUNE FALLS. No doubt, her readers are the lucky ones – I’m sure you’ll agree! Take it away, Jenny!

Building a Charmingly Twisted World

A very lucky thing happened to me shortly after my debut middle grade novel, Grave Images, was published in the fall of 2013. My editor at Scholastic, Mallory Kass, came to me with an idea she had for another book—one about a magical town where superstitions are real.

Don’t step on a crack, or you’ll break your mother’s back.

Hold your breath when you pass a graveyard.

Find a penny, pick it up, all day long you’ll have good luck.

It sounded like an incredibly fun and original premise and I didn’t hesitate to jump at the opportunity.  At the time, however, I had no idea how resounding the effects of warping this one seemingly frivolous aspect of life would be. Building a world much like ours, only twisted, proved to be a tremendous challenge.

I think my biggest mistake, one that resulted in a number of false starts for Fortune Falls, was being overly anxious —story of my (creative) life. I launched into the construction part a little too quickly. Eventually (with a great deal of guidance from Mallory and from my critique partners), I realized that the key to making the unbelievable seem believable was to slow down and ask the right questions before barreling ahead with the world building.  The following questions are the ones I found to be most helpful.

What’s the main problem?

Whether the setting is real or imaginary, every story needs a problem that can be compounded upon.  Therefore, this was a logical first question to ask. And, in a town where superstitions are real, bad luck is going to present more problems than good luck.  So an unlucky main character doing something to further aggravate her fate—say something like break a mirror—seemed to be the most compelling place to start.

But the questions couldn’t stop there.  If bad luck and good luck reigned supreme, why would anyone take unnecessary chances?  Why would a hapless girl pick up a mirror in the first place?

Once I had a satisfying reason for my main character, Sadie, to break a mirror and get caught up in such a dire predicament (I’m not going to tell you how she breaks it—you have to read the book!), I was fairly confident I could make the plot work.

What is society like?

The next step was to take a hard look at how life in this alternate world would be affected by the skewed parameters I was imposing.

First, how would society respond to the disparities between the lucky and the less fortunate? In a town where so much hinges on this one fantastical element, what precautions would be taken to prevent the horrendous luck of some from complicating the charmed lives of others?  Whatever the society’s response would be, I knew it should have a significant impact on my main character.

Solution: The Luck Test, a sorting process for the inhabitants of Fortune Falls. Because this is a middle grade novel, it only made sense for Sadie’s entire destiny to be determined by this test at the ripe old age of twelve.  And, of course, she would have to face this test after breaking the mirror (gotta compound the problem, right?)

Commerce?

If lucky items were easy to come by, the solution to all of Sadie’s problems would be too easy.  Therefore, I had to build an economy for Fortune Falls where supply and demand drove up prices for four-leaf clovers, rabbit’s feet, and lucky horseshoes.  To illustrate this idea, I added a scene at Lucky CharmZ, which is basically a black-market shop for all things luck-related, and contrasted it with the boutiques where the more fortunate citizens do their shopping.

What rules are there governing the magic/lucky charms?

Another part of building the economy was making the rare charms consumable, and assigning a value (based on the length of effectiveness) to each one.

Setting these imitations and creating rules around how the charms would work allowed me to create an atmosphere where it wasn’t entirely impossible for Sadie to reverse her luck but was unlikely enough to present a sufficient challenge.

How does living in this world affect my main character’s daily Life?

After I tackled some of the larger scale questions, it was time to look at how Sadie’s daily life would be affected. I wanted to impress upon the audience from the very beginning what a burden it would be for a hapless person to live in a world where bad luck was far more than an inconvenience.  So in the very first chapter, I put Sadie in a situation familiar to most school-aged children—walking down a sidewalk and avoiding cracks.  Then I twisted the lens by showing a mother with a halo cast, an “all too common sight in Fortune Falls.” Providing this bridge of the familiar and then skewing the expected outcome, or gravity of the situation, was crucial for building a strange, but believable world.

Character development?

Exploring what impact all of this would have on Sadie’s character was the final, fundamental aspect of making this outlandish tale seem possible. Knowing that fate wasn’t on her side, it seemed unlikely that Sadie would be bold and reckless.  But I couldn’t have her be too disparaged either, or it wouldn’t be believable that she was resilient enough to overcome the obstacles before her. It was clear she needed places in her life where she could find redemption.  This redemption comes for Sadie in the form of friendship and learning to rely on her own cleverness and aptitude to see her way through some very bleak times.

Once I restructured my approach to writing Fortune Falls, things went much smoother. Writing is forever a learning process.  At least I know now that if I’m going to set my stories in twisted worlds, I must ask myself some very probing questions before I ever start building.


Jenny Goebel is the author of Fortune Falls, Grave Images, and The 39 Clues: Doublecross Book 3: Mission Hurricane. She lives in Colorado with her husband and three sons who avoid stepping on cracks and walking under ladders, but have been known to consort with black cats.

 

 

 

 

 

When Being “Too Pickley” Was “Just Right”

McCannBoysLast month I had the great honor of a virtual visit in the classroom of one of New Jersey’s finest teachers, Kevin McCann. Kevin brings out the best in kids. It shows in his amazing students, and – as you’ll see below – in his adorable sons. I know you’ll enjoy this peek into our visit as well as a glimpse into the family life of one great dad! 

WHEN BEING “TOO PICKLEY” WAS “JUST RIGHT”

by Kevin McCann

SmashBurgerIt is funny how ideas can come to you when you are a teacher.  I am not only a third grade teacher at John F. Kennedy Elementary School in South Plainfield, New Jersey, I am also a proud parent of three awesome boys.  They challenge and push my wife and me everyday.  Each in their own way!  My oldest son, Daniel, has a strong personality.  The youngest, Tyler, is going through the stage of not sharing.  My middle son, Matthew, is the one who fusses about food.He would eat mozzarella sticks or chicken nuggets everyday of the week if allowed.  It’s ironic because he won’t try a breaded chicken cutlet because he says, “I don’t like that kind of chicken.”

Too-Pickley-coverMy wonderful wife, Michelle, who is also a fabulous teacher, was aware of a book to read to the boys, which might encourage Matthew to try other foods.  The book was Too Pickley by Jean Reidy.  Coincidentally, during writing workshop that day, my class was talking about being more descriptive with their word choices.  When I heard Jean Reidy’s choice of words, I knew it would be perfect for my class. I always love when a picture book can be used in the classroom to model or enhance a concept or skill.  For instance, I have used If You Give A Pig A Pancake by Laura Numeroff to help with cause and effect.  The books I Wanna Iguana and I Wanna New Room by Karen Kaufman Orloff have been used to help teach persuasive writing.  Was this another picture book I could use to help the class?  Time would tell!

Jean Reidy Class VisitThe next day I read Too Pickley to my class.  The students loved the book.  It wasn’t only the rhyming and descriptive use of words, but the magnificent illustrations that made the class ask to read it again.  I decided to go to the library and get Too Purpley and Too Princessy.  Our class was also working on generating ideas for writing while enhancing their word choice.  The books in this series were perfect picture books to use in the class to help the students understand these skills,   Jean Reidy does an outstanding job with her word choices.  As a class, we then looked at the background information on each book as we explored her website.  We were trying to see if we could find out where Jean Reidy generated the ideas for her books.  We discovered the books were about people she knew…the people in her life!  This is a conversation that is continuously woven throughout our writing workshops as students are working to find inspiration for their own writing ideas.  Her books made everything real for my students.  They understood that they could look to the people in their lives for story ideas.

ReidySkypeTo cap it off, Jean Reidy made a virtual visit to our class through Skype.  She discussed where she got her ideas for writing, read a book to the class, and even took time for questions.  Matthew is still “too pickley,” but thanks to him, my class was able to use Jean Reidy’s books in class, meet Ms. Reidy, and enhance our knowledge of writing through real life experiences!

Kevin McCann is a third grade teacher at John F. Kennedy Elementary School in South Plainfield, New Jersey.  He received his B.S. from Rutgers University.  He also has his M.S. in Educational Leadership from Scranton University.  Besides teaching he is also involved in coaching on various levels.  Kevin coaches middle school cross-country and high school wrestling.  In 2008, he was the Governor’s Teacher Recognition/Educational Services Professionals Program Recipient.  Kevin was also named the State Coach of the Year for wrestling in 2005 and 2010. During his free time, Kevin enjoys music, running, lifting, and hanging on the beach with a good book.  He currently resides in Bridgewater, New Jersey with his wife Michelle and their three boys Daniel, Matthew, and Tyler. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Appearances 2016

1/22/16             John F. Kennedy Elementary, South Plainfield, NJ, Skype School Visit

1/28/16             Palencia Elementary School, St. Augustine, FL, Skype School Visit

1/29/16             Abilene Elementary, Valley Center, KS, Skype School Visit

2/3-6/16            Colorado Council International Reading Association Conference

2/23/16              Carl T. Mitnick School, Cape May, NJ, Skype School Visit

2/24/16             World Read Aloud Day

3/2/16                St. Edmund Parish School, Oak Park, IL, Skype School Visit

3/3/16                Wawaloam School, Exeter, RI, Skype School Visit

4/7/16                 Grafflin Elementary School, Chappaqua, NY, Skype School Visit

4/8/16                Frederick Douglass Elementary, Leesburg, VA, Skype School Visit

5/3/16                Chaparral Elementary, Albuquerque, NM, Skype School Visit

7/16/16              Second Star to the Right Books, Denver, BUSY BUILDERS, BUSY WEEK! Story Time.

9/17-18/16        Rocky Mountain Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators Letters and Lines Conference

11/13/16             Author Salon at The Tattered Cover on Colfax, Picture Book Revision, 1-3 PM.

More appearances added everyday!

 

 

YIPPEE! I’m Over the Moon About Luna!

The real Luna – from the Shedd Aquarium website at -http://www.sheddaquarium.org/blog/2014/December/Luna-in-Photos/

If any of you know “Luna” at the Shedd Aquarium, then you can understand why I’m so, SO excited about my latest book deal for a story based on her story.

If you haven’t yet met Luna, I encourage you to take a gander at the Shedd Aquarium website for a journey into adorableness.

Here’s the announcement from Publishers Weekly!

“Laura Godwin at Henry Holt has acquired world rights to PUP 681, a picture book written by Jean Reidy and illustrated by Ashley Crowley. The story of an orphaned sea otter that is lovingly rescued and cared for was inspired by real-life events. It’s scheduled for publication in winter 2018; Erin Murphy of Erin Murphy Literary Agency represented the author and Kirsten Hall of Catbird Productions represented the illustrator.”

Otter-ly exuberant,
Jean

What Came First? The Dragon or the Verse? Guest Post by Penny Parker Klostermann

DRAGON coverI’m one of the lucky ones. At a picture book workshop I was leading, I got to hear Penny Parker Klostermann first read her hilarious picture book manuscript THERE WAS AN OLD DRAGON WHO SWALLOWED A KNIGHT. I knew instantly she had a winner. So it brought me great happiness to hold this shiny, new hardcover in my hands – with its perfect illustrations – and read it in all its published glory. But in all our time together, I never asked Penny about her inspiration for the story. So today, she’s answering just that.

Take it away, Penny!

What Came First? The Dragon or the Verse?

by Penny Parker Klostermann

I hate to break it to my hungry dragon (for fear he might swallow me up)…but the verse came first. I love a great cumulative tale. The repetition is magical and invites kids to join in. I’d had it in my mind for a while to do a rewrite of There Was an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly. All I had to do was find the perfect main character. A resource that I use frequently is agency-mate Tara Lazar’s (of PiBoIdMo fame!) list of 500+ Things That Kids Like. That’s where I found my dragon! Thus began the playful process of writing a rhyming picture book.

What would my ornery dragon swallow after the knight and why? I’d already decided he couldn’t swallow things “just because.” I wanted a good reason for everything he swallowed because in my favorite “Old Lady” rewrites there’s always a reason for the swallower to swallow the swallowees. After researching medieval times, I carefully chose a list of swallowees in logical order for logical reasons. I completed my first draft and had good reasons for each swallowee swallowed. Now time for tweaking. Here are some changes I made on a language level by finding stronger and more appealing word/rhyme choices.

In my first draft, I had horse instead of steed. All along the horse/steed was meant to be an annoyance like the spider “that wiggled and jiggled and tickled inside her.”

There was an old dragon who swallowed a horse
that trotted and galloped around of course.
Oh how the dragon wished it would stop
That clippity, clippity, clippity clop.

A member of my treasured critique group suggested I change horse to steed to reflect medieval times . . . an obvious oversight by me.

There was an old dragon who swallowed a steed
that galloped around at a terrible speed.
Oh how the dragon wished it would stop
That clippity, clippity, clippity clop.

Much better!

In my first draft I had a maiden instead of a lady. But the rhyme was iffy.

There was an old dragon who swallowed a maiden
With sparkles and jewels that maiden was laden.

See. Inverted rhyme. Yuck! So maiden became lady, which was a better fit and allowed for another joke in my text.

There was an old dragon who swallowed a lady.
It seems quite shady he’d swallow a lady.

One more example. First draft-

There was an old dragon who swallowed a castle.
To swallow a castle? Now that is a hassle.

Hassle is the obvious, overused rhyme. But what else? I tackled this on May 4, 2012. On that day I have three saved versions. One is titled “Ideas for castle line.”

Down to the king and his royal shoe’s tassel.
Down to the king and his shoe’s royal tassel.
Down to a royal shoe with a tassel.
All of the curtains and one purple tassel.
Down to the fool and his jester-hat tassel.

No. No. No. No. And No. The third saved file on May 4th is titled, “Dragon-without castle and moat” because I couldn’t keep the moat without the castle and I still didn’t have a satisfying “tassel” line. The story wasn’t as fun without the castle and the moat. Sigh.
Mull.
Mull.
Mull.
Then on May 6th I found it.

There was an old dragon who swallowed a castle,
Swallowed it down to the last golden tassel.

And I left it to illustrator, Ben Mantle, to determine where the golden tassel would be. Would it be on a shoe? A hat? A curtain? Where?

Over the next year I did a lot more tweaking. Then July 10, 2013, my agent, Tricia Lawrence, subbed Dragon to six editors. Just five days later, on July 15th, we had strong interest from editor Maria Modugno with a revision request.

I’m not going to lie. Even with all the tweaking I’d already done, revising per an editor’s notes was scary. She was asking me to consider changing the third line in my cumulative tale. That line that was repeated six times and key to my story. I saw her reasoning, but could I carry the change throughout my story and still have it make sense? Obviously I did it and my story is so much stronger per Maria’s insightful comments.

So what’s the takeaway for writers? In the end, no matter what comes first—idea or verse . . . tweak, tweak, tweak until all works together seamlessly. That’s when a manuscript has the chance to become a beautiful book.

Read what reviewers are saying about THERE WAS AN OLD DRAGON WHO SWALLOWED A KNIGHT:

KIRKUS – In days of yore, before a certain fly’s ultimately fatal encounter with an Old Lady, there was an old dragon who felt rather peckish.“There was an old dragon who swallowed a knight. / I don’t know why he swallowed the knight // It’s not polite!” He follows the knight with the knight’s steed (“that galloped around at a terrible speed”). Then a squire, a cook, a lady, a castle, and finally a moat are each swallowed in turn. But…“With all of that water, he started to bloat. / And that’s when the dragon roared, and I quote: / ‘Okay, enough! I’ve had enough— / More than enough of this swallowing stuff!’ ” So realizing that eating all those things might have been “a tad impolite,” the old dragon burps them all out in reverse except the knight (which is “ahhh…just right”). Klostermann’s debut is a rollicking and warped Medieval take on the well-worn cumulative rhyme. Prolific British animator and illustrator Mantle’s expressive and bright cartoon illustrations of the red, horned dragon (and the contents of his stomach) are a perfect match. The antics within the dragon’s stomach—every image of the steed is accompanied by a little “clippity, clippity, clippity, clop” in teeny type—and his copious burping will leave ’em laughing.No matter how many swallowed-fly titles you own, this one belongs on your shelf too. (Picture book. 4-8)

SCHOOL LIBRARY JOURNAL – No one seems to know why the old dragon swallowed the knight (“It’s not polite!”) In addition, the bright red beast proceeds to swallow a steed, a squire, a cook, a lady, a castle, and finally, a moat. At this point the creature decides to burp out everything (except the knight), and what preschooler won’t love that! The author has used a broad range of words—savory, shady, fattens, tassel, guzzled, bloat, quote, perchance, amass, and billow. These will add depth to the young listener’s vocabulary. Mantle’s illustrations are full of primary colors and are quite expressive as the dragon gobbles each entity he encounters. Life in the Middle Ages is hinted at with the additional drawings surrounding each dragon tidbit. This will be a great addition to the kindergarten/first grade curriculum on comparing and contrasting similar stories. VERDICT A fine purchase for most collections.

Check out other stops on Penny’s blog tour: 

http://pennyklostermann.com/2015/07/14/there-was-an-old-blog-tour/

PPK_0615_RGB_HR_02Penny Parker Klostermann is the author of There Was an Old Dragon Who Swallowed a Knight. She loves all kinds of  books, but especially loves very silly picture books that make her laugh. She has been known to hug her favorite picture books and seriously hopes that someday her books will gain huggable status too. Penny is a member of SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators). She was named the 2012 Barbara Karlin Grant Runner-up. She is represented by Tricia Lawrence of the Erin Murphy Literary Agency. Penny grew up in Colorado and now lives in Abilene, Texas-the Storybook Capital of Texas!

All materials © 2017 Jean Reidy. Author website by Websy Daisy. Shelly the Turtle designed by Genevieve Leloup.