Today I'm so excited to introduce you to a wonderful new middle-grade novel, A Dog's Way Home by Bobbie Pyron. I love the way this story--alternating between the lost dog and his girl-- combines action and adventure with school and family issues. But I mostly loved the way my own 11-year-old daughter got lost in this story!
Leave a comment to win a signed copy of A Dog's Way Home.
I'm impressed by the way you depict Tam's doggie thinking in A Dog's Way Home. You obviously know a lot about canine sensibilities. Will you tell us a little bit about your very first dog?
The very first dog we had when I was a child was a wonderful beagle named Puck. I come from a family of big-time dog lovers and dogs were always members of the family. They were not dogs that were stuck out in the back yard--they lived in the house with us. Puck was probably one of the smartest dogs I've ever known and had an “old soul.” He was our nanny. We lived in a small beach town in Florida. Whenever my sister and I went out to roam the neighborhoods or the beach, my parents always said, “Take Puck with you and mind him.” We didn't think there was anything odd about that!And because I was a rather shy child, I often preferred to spend my time with Puck than with other kids.
Tam is separated from his little girl Abby, but neither gives up finding each other again. I once found my missing cat after six months (I phoned the animal shelter on my birthday--and my cat was there!). Have you ever found a lost pet?
This is kind of a “lost pet” story: when I was about five, our neighborhood was hit by a small tornado. It came on so suddenly, we barely had time to come in from the back yard and hide in the bathroom! When the storm passed, my sister said, “Oh no, Pucky is in the back yard!” My mother and sister and I ran to the back yard. Not only was Puck gone, but so was his dog house. We walked all over the neighborhood calling and calling his name. My mother even called my father at work and told him he had to come home and help find Puck. Right after my dad got home, we got a phone call from some folks several blocks away. The man said, “We got at dog house in our front yard and a dog in it that belongs to you”! Just like Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz, Puck and his dog house had been picked up here, and dropped down over there. He never got in that dog house again.
I've always liked standard poodles, but my daughters don't think I'm fashionable enough to own one (poodles apparently don't like sweatpants!) What three dog breeds best represent you and why?
Wow, three...that's hard! My husband will tell you without hesitation that I'm a Border Collie. I'm always trying to get him to do something! And I need a job to do—I'm not a nap taker or lollygagger. But I'd like to think I also have the loyalty of a Sheltie and the stubbornness of a terrier.
Tam encounters many wild animals on his journey. Have you ever had a wild encounter while hiking with your dogs?
Ha! Well, living up here in Park City, it's not at all unusual to have close encounters of the wild kind. And I do spend a lot of time—all year round—out on the trails with my three dogs. We've frequently encountered moose, coyotes, foxes, deer, rabbits, grouse, elk, and unfortunately, skunks. One of my dogs, Boo, is a coyote mix so she loves to hunt. When she was younger, she'd run up and antagonize a moose until it had enough and chased her. Of course, she'd run straight to mom and hide behind me! Another time, she met a very friendly fox. They played and played together out in a field for a good ten minutes. It was so amazing—and of course, I didn't have my camera with me.
I admire the way Abby sticks to her belief that Tam will return--long after everyone else gives up. Tell us about a time in which you've stuck up for your beliefs.
I am by nature a fairly reticent, peace-making kind of person. I don't like to “rock the boat.” BUT, I will not back down when it comes to the importance of adopting pets and the rights of our animal friends, whether they be domestic or wild. I will also have to say, I also had to really stand up for my beliefs when I was trying to find an agent or publisher for my book, A Dog's Way Home. So many people (editors, agents, workshop critiquers) told me I “couldn't” and “shouldn't” write the book in two different points of view. But I knew in my gut and in my heart that that was the way the book had to be written. I stuck by my vision for the book until I finally found my wonderful agent who also believed in the way I had to tell the story. Eventually, she found my amazing editor, Molly O'Neill, who also believed in my vision (and may I point out, I originally met Molly at one of your SCBWI regional conferences the year before). What I learned from that is this: yes, you have to “pick your battles” but you also have to respect your instincts and your vision!
"Hey, girl," the new receptionist at the salon greeted me as I pulled my wallet out to pay for my haircut. "You look great, girl," she said as I handed her my credit card. "Can I help you with any product, girl?"
I almost wanted her to call me "ma'am." I am old enough to be her mother--without having made poor choices in high school, or even college. And the term "girl" reminds me too much of all the terrible jobs I worked after being a college "woman" for four years.
One of the stylists walked behind the front desk and the receptionist immediately said, "What can I do for you, girl?" As I walked down the stairs, she called out, "See ya later, girl!"
That receptionist reminded me of a first draft character: too much of a good thing.
I often give my characters dialogue quirks to differentiate them from others in the story, to make them unique, to show personality, to create voice. Inevitably when I read through my rough draft, I realize that I've overdone those quirks. I find the snowboarder saying "dude" every time he speaks. "OMG!" exclaims the BFF on every single page. And then there's the word "like" -- Oh, I, like, use that word, like, all the time in my first draft dialogue.
Dialogue quirks are best used sparingly--a sprinkle here, a sprinkle there, as in ten pages later. I have to admit the first time the receptionist used the word "girl," I thought, Ooh. Interesting dialogue quirk, I'm going to write that down when I get to my car. But after the third mention, I only wanted to revise her speech like overdone first draft dialogue!
I love watching American Idol. I delight in watching the singers with promise juxtaposed with the delusional. I love watching underdogs overcome favorites. I hope to hear old songs sung new ways.
The process kind of reminds me of writing. Often you submit before you're ready, but you keep trying, you grow, and sometimes you make your dream come true.
And I really like the new judges. Jennifer Lopez is kind and charming. Steven Tyler makes me smile. Who else but a bona fide rock star could wear a pink ruffled shirt with such aplomb? My whole family enjoys pooching out our lips and mimicking his little head-bob to the music. And Randy will always be my dawg.
But last night I found myself missing the industry/marketing perspective: Simon's critical voice.
Last night Jennifer Lopez told one mediocre crooner that she'd do better next time. No! She sounded like a housewife, um, singing along to her ringtone at the grocery store past midnight... (I miss Simon's analogies too.) As creative people, the judges want to encourage and nurture the contestants.
I get that.
That's why I usually advise newer writers to seek out critiques from authors, not editors and agents, at conferences. An author will give a beginning writer a bit of cheerleading--yes, you can--along with concrete writing advice. Industry professionals often look at conference submissions in terms of marketability.
That's what the top 13 on American Idol needs: criticism with marketability in mind. All of these contestants can sing, but not all of them have what it takes--right now--to sing radio hits.
Just like not all stories are ready to be books. My inner Simon: this manuscript should be lining the cage of a canary who sings like a pitchy American Idol wannabe...
I do miss Simon's honest and colorful critiques. I wonder what he'd look like wearing pink ruffles?
With SCBWI Work-In-Progress Grant applications due soon, my writing group has been preoccupied with synopsis writing. How to sum up 50,000+ words in fewer than 750? One member joked that she'd rather have a root canal than write her novel synopsis.
Last year, I had a root canal. On my birthday. I'd rather write a synopsis. In fact, I usually begin the writing process by crafting a detailed synopsis. Things always change during the creative process of drafting a novel, but I like the security blanket my synopsis provides.
So I figured if I'm going to talk about *almost* enjoying synopsis writing, I better give you some hints to make the process less daunting:
Write in present tense.
Write in the 3rd person POV, even if your story is told in 1st person POV.
Give away the ending.
Think of your synopsis like a sales pitch—like a book jacket blurb. Keep it short, fast & exciting.
Establish the hook right away (this can also be your 30 second elevator pitch, you know, to avoid those long-winded explanations: oh, and then this happens, but wait, I have to explain so-and-so, oh, and then there's this other character who, but let me back up and say... Snooze!).
Introduce the main character and the main conflict.
What’s important about the main character? Include motivation, goals, conflict, but not physical description (unless vital to the plot).
Highlight the plot points (scenes) that move the story forward. Give the reader a clear idea of what the book is about.
Write your synopsis in chronological order. Do NOT make lists.
Weave everything together like you’re telling a story. Try to capture your main character's voice, even if you're writing in a different POV.
Focus on the main character and the main plot. Touch on the subplots and minor characters. Do not include every character or every subplot. A short synopsis shows things that reflect on the MC’s journey.
Show increasing tension, increasing conflict.
Think: action, reaction, decision.
Tell the reader how the main plot resolves.
Try to make the ending of your synopsis evoke the emotional response you hope a reader will feel upon finishing your story.
The Picky Stuff:
Does your synopsis reflect the style, tone, and voice of your story? If it’s funny, show humor in the synopsis. Writing something literary? Your synopsis should shine with gorgeous sentences.
Does the reader know which characters to care about? What’s at stake? How it will turn out?
Have you woven together your character’s external and internal journeys?
Did you select the best plot points--the ones that affect your MC’s emotional arc?
Did you make every word count? Use strong adjectives and verbs (avoid adverbs).
Did you select the most telling details to use? Don’t weigh down your synopsis with extraneous or confusing details.
Did you format your synopsis properly? Double-spaced, 12-point font, 1" margins.
If you're still struggling to write an effective synopsis take a critical look at your story. Are you missing some key scenes? Does your main character lack internal motivation? Could you use an intriguing subplot to increase tension?
Really, it isn't that bad--you can still eat birthday cake after writing a synopsis. Not the case with root canals!
I've completely ignored my blog this week. Instead I've been lounging on my sofa, reading until the patch of morning sunshine moves. I de-cluttered my basement, giving boxes of unused stuff to charity. I've written, but it's all silly stuff--like a poem in the shape of Justin Bieber's hair. Let's just say I have more appreciation for his hair-stylist, and less appreciation for my poetry skills.
And I've felt a wee bit guilty and more than a bit unproductive. But--
Then I went to my monthly SCBWI meeting and learned that all that goofing around is actually good for my brain!
Kim Justesen, author of My Brother The Dog, explained that our brains constantly form new neural pathways. Trying new things--like Bieber hair poems--creates new pathways! (Kim asked us to write something with our non-dominant hand as a brain-enhancing exercise.)
Following old pathways, well-worn roads that form with routine actions like housework, frees our brains to think of creative ideas. That's why we often have great insights in the shower. So I guess I really should do more housework... I did spend my basement-cleaning time musing about my new WIP.
The bottom line: break out of your routine every now and then. Try new foods, go new places, write something wacky, or better yet write somewhere wacky... And then fold the laundry.