Friday, July 27, 2012

Despicable Main Characters

by Scott Rhoades

I mentioned at the beginning of the year that one of my reading goals for 2012 is to read at least ten books from the ALA's lists of frequently banned books. As a result, I've read some amazing books that I might have otherwise continued to avoid. Many of these tell the story of a character who is, to say the least, unlikeable.

For example, yesterday I finished Rabbit, Run by John Updike. The writing in this book is incredible, which helped me stick with the story of a 26-year-old man who is selfish and conceited, and whose decisions ruin the lives of those closest to him. Updike's mastery made me care what happened to Rabbit, although I never liked him. In fact, few of the characters in the story are sympathetic, but Updike managed to make me sympathize with them anyway. It's a good book to read if you want to learn how to write about unsympathetic characters, although be warned that it's not hard to figure out why this book is often challenged in high schools. One of Updike's impressive skills is dealing with the sexuality that runs throughout the book without resorting to the usual sexual cliches. Another was that he kept me anxious the entire time I read, wondering whether Rabbit would see the error of his ways and be redeemed in the end, or whether his downward spiral would go out of control and cause even more damage.

A couple books back, I reread Madame Bovary. I read it in my college years, at a time when between my English Major and my German Major, I often had to read four books a week. I remember liking the book, but other than the main plot points, reading it quickly meant that very little stuck with me. This book is about the wife of a boring, somewhat slow-witted country doctor, and her attempts to live the life of the characters she read about in romance novels. That meant, of course, getting involved with other men. Being about 150 years old, sex is handled differently in this book than it is in more modern books, but it still got its author arrested. This is another book full of characters that are hard to like, but it's told so well, that you care about them even if you don't like them.

One of the first books I read this year was Lolita, which is, of course, about a self-absorbed man who believes himself to be smarter than the rest of the world, who gets married after developing a crush on the woman's 12-year-old daughter. The woman finds out about his obsession and gets herself run over by a car, and our dear, sick, lead character then takes the girl on a cross-country journey to try to avoid raising suspicions about his relationship with her. One of the brilliant things about this one is how unreliable our first-person narrator is as he convinces himself that little Delores feels the same way about him as he does about her. Humbert Humbert is despicable. His actions are disgusting (and, thankfully, mostly undescribed in the book, although you know what's going on). You want him to get caught and to suffer horribly. And you're fascinated by his story. It's one of the best books I've read in a long time, definitely worthy of the classic status it has been given. But it's also (like so many classic artworks) difficult and challenging. It's not a light, fun read. But it is enjoyable, and it contains many lessons that writers won't find drawn better anywhere else.

Other books jump to mind that I've enjoyed even though the lead characters are not sympathetic, such as The Confederacy of Dunces and Shakespeare's Coriolanus.  These books all show that your lead character need not be a shining hero. He can be flawed. Deeply flawed. He can be a villain. But to pull off a character like this, a writer has to build sympathy (or at least interest) in the character, and make us care about what happens at the end of the story. Sometimes the evil character is redeemed. Sometimes, the story is all about a bad person getting what he or she deserves. Sometimes the story is meant to show that, while people set moral boundaries for the sake of society, the world itself often seems amoral and bad people don't always lose.

What about you? Can you think of other books where you despise the protagonist, but love the book anyway?

Thursday, July 26, 2012

3 Reasons Why Every Fantasy Writer Needs a Gamer In Their Life

I have yet another confession to make. (As a blogger, I end up confessing a lot.) I... am a recovering video game addict. They don't happen to have support groups specifically for my particular addiction in this part of the world, unfortunately, so I have to use another addiction - writing - to combat the first one. Sort of like trading one drug for another. :) Oh well.

However, I think that gamers can be a very handy resource for the serious fantasy writer, and I'll tell you why.

1. Gamers Know The Genre

And DO they know the genre. Video games aren't much more than interactive stories, and as such, a lot of the terms, tropes and trolls are the same. Gamers often are heavily immersed in the culture of their respective gaming genres, and gamers who play a lot of fantasy games will be invaluable resources.

For example, gamers usually know a lot about armor and weaponry. It's kind of their thing. They'll know things about armor and weaponry that you didn't even know you didn't know. Why do they know these things? Because 1) they need to know in order to win and 2) they LOVE this kind of stuff.

2. Gamers Play by the Rules

Inventing a magic system? Have a gamer test it. And by test, I mean pick holes in it. Video games, as a rule, HAVE to have rules for their magic systems, otherwise nothing would make sense and there would be no way to reach goals or defeat villains. It's the same with magic systems in books. The more the magic is posed as a solution to the conflict, the more specific it has to be and the better you as the author must understand it. Gamers intrinsically understand this, and you'll often find that they have a deep love for a well put-together magic system.

3. Gamers Can Have Cool Ideas

Getting stuck somewhere with your fantasy world? Talk it over with a gamer. Think of the unique viewpoint that they'll have - hundreds and hundreds of ideas taken in over the course of years of interactive storytelling... maybe they aren't writers, but they'll have things that they wish were in video games, or that they wish some writer would put in a book. Think how useful they might be in creature creation, for example, or in building a culture that revolves around horse magic. 

But Where Do I Find A Gamer?

They're everywhere. Seriously. Not hard to find. If you want to find a gamer who is nice enough to help you with your stories and you don't already have one, try this:

1. Family reunions. Every family has a gamer. Sometimes they're hard to spot, but you can find them.

2. Play some games yourself in the genre you're writing. You might like it. Just don't get addicted. :)

3. Online writer's forums. TONS of writers are also gamers.

4. Your kids or grandkids friends. Need I say more? :)

Anybody have any good stories on how gamers have been helpful to them? Anybody know a good way to thank a helpful gamer?

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Sympathy for Agents

by Deren Hansen

I'm not an agent, and the only kind I play on TV is secret (wait, I've said too much), but I've worked through something recently that has ratcheted my sympathy for literary agents up a notch or two.

Recently I had to do some hiring. We posted a notice with a handful of requirements for the position and for the process (e.g,. send us a resume) in a public place. Then we watched as responses from all over the map rolled in:

  • Some had nothing to do with the job.
  • Some came from people with wildly inappropriate experience (e.g., I've operated a cash register so I can build enterprise software).
  • Many came from people who didn't follow the simple instructions to include a resume.
  • "Queries" from people other than the applicant, who didn't follow instructions either.
  • There were even people who felt they had to berate us for not recognizing their inherent talent and our flawed decision making (e.g, "if you had been more diligent, you would have reached a different conclusion,") when we decided they wouldn't be a good fit.

If you've followed any agent blogs or found posts when they talk about query mistakes, this list will sound familiar.

Another familiar note that surprised me was how quickly I was able to dismiss 90% of the responses because the people hadn't paid attention to either our requirements for the job or the application process. By the same token, it was easy to see who among the respondents had made a good-faith effort and we didn't hold unimportant details like resume format against them.

The first thing I want you take away from these observations is that you should do yourself and the agents you wish to query a favor and try to follow their submission instructions. Just that much care and attention on your part will put you ahead of 90% of the people sending queries.

The second thing you should take to heart is that a good faith effort, which includes doing enough research to be confident that the agent actually represents projects like yours, is more important than agonizing over every fiddly detail. This is not to say you'll get a pass on grammar and spelling errors. But no agent is going to care whether you indent the first line of each paragraph (which you shouldn't in standard business letter format) if the words in those paragraphs describe a project that fits what they're looking for.

Put another way, what we wanted in response to our job posting wasn't hard to do, and yet I was amazed at all the ways people found to make it harder. Querying agents doesn't have to be as hard as some people make it: relax, take a breath, read the instructions twice, and then give it your best shot. I can't tell you how refreshing it was to open a response and see that they'd actually paid attention to our request.

Of course, didn't hire everybody who sent us a good resume. Similarly, no agent is going to respond favorably to every well-crafted, carefully-targeted query. So if you did your homework, made a good-faith effort, and were still rejected the simplest and most constructive explanation is that it really wasn't a good fit.

Monday, July 23, 2012

The Proper Care and Receiving of Criticism

By Julie Daines

As writers, we are constantly putting our writing out there for critique. We have writing groups, beta-readers, we win a critique from someone, we get a rejection letter enumerating all that is wrong with our story. It's a tough business and we need a thick skin.

So let's talk a little about how to receive criticism. Some of it is valuable, some of it--not so much. How do you know what to accept and what to reject?

First of all, consider the source. If an agent or editor tells you the story is too slow or the voice is off, listen. Agent feedback is valuable and almost always spot on.

When it comes to your writing group, they feel it is their job to point out as many problems as possible. If they have no negative feedback they feel they are failing at their responsibility so they may dwell on the nit-picky. As we say in my group, scraping the bottom of the barrel. Consider their advice and then go with your gut reaction.

Non-writer feedback can be useful because they tend to look at the story as a whole. But if your writing falls outside of their preferred genre, their feedback could mean nothing.

Second, pay attention to the feedback's level. Criticism that considers the story as a whole is more valuable than the nit-picky. If a reader mentions overall plot issues, says the story didn't hook them, it was confusing, didn't care about the main characters, too much repetition, too slow--those are red flags. Listen up and fix it.

If the feed back is full of nit-picky small stuff then those are the kinds of changes you think about and then go with what you feel is right for your story.

If a reader says your story just really isn't their thing, no problem. Move on. They are not the target audience.

In the end, all criticism is based on personal opinion and should be carefully considered. Most writers and readers that offer feedback are well-meaning and want to help you write the best story you can, so don't get offended or disheartened by negative comments. Listen to them, think about why that person said what they did, and then use those comments to strengthen your writing.

What are your tips for receiving (or giving) criticism?

Coincidentally, I just noticed that Mary Kole wrote an excellent article on agent vs. paid editorial feedback and why agents say the things they do. Check it out.

Friday, July 20, 2012

The continuing saga of the year of the e-book

by Scott Rhoades

I've posted about my gradual conversion to e-books before, but it's been a while. I now feel like I've read enough of them to be able to write somewhat coherently about the (nonsensical) battle of the book vs the e-book.

First of all, let me say that I no longer draw a line between e-books and "real" books like I once did. The words are the same regardless of the medium, and the experience of consuming the words is similar enough, that any thoughts I once had about e-books somehow being less real have vanished. As far as reading goes, they are just as real as paperbacks or hardbacks.

When I started the year with my new Nook Color, a Christmas present from my wife, I expected to read about 35-40 books in 2012, based on my reading history over the past few years since I started keeping track. I read 42 last year, 15 of them on my iPad. The rest were printed.

Right now, I am nearing the halfway point of my 31st book of the year. I think four of those have been printed books. The Nook is a major reason why I've read so much. It's easy to have around and comfortable to hold, especially for big books. I can carry an entire library with me, between the Nook's memory and its memory card. I've even switched my favorite magazine to a digital subscription. It's easy to read without losing the sense of the magazine's design, and I don't have to deal with piles of past issues. I can read with the lights out (although I don't do that much). I can adjust the font size for more comfortable reading, and adjust the brightness of the screen for comfort in whatever lighting I'm sitting in.

That last bit shouldn't be underestimated. One of my friends, who used to be an avid reader, had all but given up on reading because his aging eyes required perfect lighting and a reasonable font size. He bought his wife a Nook Color, tried reading on it, and ended up buying another one for his wife because he took hers over. Now he reads a lot again.

Clearly, this little device has its advantages, But what about disadvantages?

I'm sure there were people who complained when mass-produced books from printing presses replaced the carefully and lovingly made manuscripts of yore. Book lovers (and I consider myself one of them) always talk about how they prefer the feel of a book, the smell of the pages, the tactile pleasures of the printed book. You don't get that from a reader. I have a leather cover for mine that gives it a cozier feel than the hard plastic of the bare e-reader. It helps, but it's not the same. While the Nook is more comfortable to read in bed than a thick book or a large-format book, it can't compete with most books in the coziness battle. This has really become obvious to me in recent months after I inherited some books that belonged to my grandmother and my aunt, who both died in the past year. I pick up those books, several of which were read to me when I was very small, and I can smell Grandma's house. Those books are treasures, for reasons far beyond the wonderful words they contain. Nobody is going to get excited about inheriting my e-book collection when my time comes. Some of my printed books might mean something to somebody, though.

I love my bookshelves. I have shelves in three rooms, all overstuffed with books, too many to fit standing upright, so there are books lying on top of books. Sometimes I like to rearrange the books on the shelf. Sometimes I discover myself standing in front of shelves, just looking at the books. I do this is other people's homes as well. Some people sneak a peek at medicine cabinets. I'm drawn to book shelves. My Nook has a shelf feature to help with organizing, but it's kind of a pain and doesn't have anything like the emotional draw of a well-crammed bookshelf. The Nook shelves have one advantage. You can put one book on multiple shelves. That's kind of cool. But it's nothing like a real shelf.

I also like that, in a real book, I can track the progress of my bookmark through the pages. You can sort of do that with an e-book, but again, it's not the same. The biggest difference is that you can't leave your bookmark where you started your session and then look at how far you've read before you move your marker. I use bookmarks to mark my starting point as much as my stopping point. And I love bookmarks. Whether they are store-bought bookmarks, gifts from my kids, or whatever object I happen to find, a bookmark is a wonderful thing. And I love looking for bookmarks. Sporting event tickets, concert tickets, baseball cards, whatever. I'm always on the lookout for a good bookmark. I have a mug full of them on my nightstand. My favorites lately have been BART tickets. Anybody who spends time in the San Francisco Bay Area probably recognizes that BART tickets are the right size and thickness for a bookmark, and that the two sides and the arrow are perfect for helping you find your place. When I ride BART, I always pay an extra nickel for my fare so I will have a new bookmark. (For those who don't know, the turnstiles keep the tickets when you've paid the exact fare, but if you've paid extra, it gives you the ticket back so you can add to it. Or use it as a bookmark.)

Finally, the thing I've noticed lately about e-books after sailing through them like I have this year, is how much I miss the difference between each book. Every book feels the same on my Nook. Thick, thin, heavy, light, textured, smooth--those differences between volumes don't change. I can't remember where a favorite passage is by it's location in the book. The writing style changes, but other than that, all books are the same. I miss the feel of a different book after I've finished one. The e-books have no real unique substance of their own, like a printed book. This is where I come closest to feeling like an e-book is somehow less real.

So, what does this all mean? I don't see myself going back to reading exclusively (or even mostly) printed books. I like the convenience, and getting older means that the control I have over font size and lighting is a big deal. I really am a convert to e-books.

At the same time, I love my printed books, for all the reasons I mentioned. The actual objects mean something. To use a much overused expression, you'll have to pry my books from my cold, dead hands. But the same is true of my e-reader. Or at least, until it breaks or the battery gives out. (That's another thing. A worn out book, even if it's ripped and pages are missing, can still have value, like some of Grandma's books. A busted e-reader is a dead hunk of plastic and glass.)

Bottom line is, regardless of how it is often argued, this is not an either-or proposition. It is possible to enjoy both e-books and printed books, loving each for its own advantages. The words are the same, and what I get out of each book is essentially the same. There is room in my life for multiple kinds of books, and I'm thrilled to live in a time when I not only have the choice but can choose both.  

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

"Don't beat yourself up. The publishing industry will do it for you."

by Deren Hansen

I once heard Julie Wright say,
"Don't beat yourself up. The publishing industry will do it for you."
Which, of course, reminded me of Bob Dylan's, "Everybody Must Get Stoned," and my own comments about the great chain of rejection that is the publishing industry.

But I think there's more to this than a lets-feel-good-about-ourselves moment.

To begin with, there's clearly a difference between self-criticism and beating oneself up. Where the latter is about grief spirals and pity parties, the former involves a realistic assessment of where you are and constructive plans to improve.

There will, naturally, be people who hate your work and loath you, often for reasons entirely beyond your control. But the number of unambiguous foes, who would gladly beat you up if given the chance, is dwarfed by the vast majority of people who inadvertently beat you up because they need an excuse to not pay attention to you.

You can understand this behavior in terms of the query problem. An agent who gets thousands of queries a year when they might realistically be able to take on one or two new clients doesn't open each query hoping it will be the one. They're looking for the quickest way to determine if it's something they can safely ignore. It's nothing personal. It's simply the most rational way to deal with an avalanche of material.

So beyond the simple psychology of a positive attitude, if you don't believe in yourself, who will? If you're not your own best advocate, who's going to do it for you?

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

A Super-Quick Book Review

Summertime and moving has made it almost impossible for me to remember my normal Tuesday blog posts! I am not even sure today is the right week. But here goes anyways!

I discovered a great book series a couple months ago that my kids and I LOVE.

"The Accidental Hero" by Matt Mylusch was originally titled "Jack Blank and the Imagine Nation" and no one had ever heard of it. They did the cover and rewrote the title and rereleased it. It is cleverly written and engaging. I read it first and enjoyed it immensely. Then I turned it over to my 12 year old daughter (who loves Harry Potter and PenDragon and Fablehaven) and she thought it was great. Then I let my 9 year son (who loves Percy Jackson and Leven Thumps) read it and he was hooked.

Luckily, our library had the second book "The Secret War" on order and we were one of the first to put on a hold. My 12 year old nabbed it first and read it. Then my 9 year old read it. Last night I started it and read until I couldn't keep my eyes open. Already I am enjoying it.

The third book, "The End of Infinity" comes out on August 7th and we are already anxious to read it. My kids said the 2nd book's ending was a cliffhanger. Can't wait to find it out for myself.

So if you want a great book series that will engage you and your kids (or just you!), check out the Jack Blank series by Matt Mylusch. Amazon Link Here. 

Monday, July 16, 2012

Harry Potter Sequel

Did you know J.K. Rowling wrote a short prequel story to HP? Me either! I just found it and am passing along the link for anyone interested:

Sunday, July 15, 2012

What is Story Form?

There are many different types of stories and styles to write them—but each may be described as consisting of the unified sequence of events having a beginning, middle and an ending. This is known as story form or a story’s structure.

Classic Plot Structure:
  • Story beginning—establishes a main character and a basic situation.
  • Story middle—develops a problem or difficulty and builds to a climax, which is then resolved.
  • Story ending—concludes the story’s events, leaving the reader satisfied.
Now briefly consider the three elements common to storytelling and help build the story's structure.

Characters—It’s important to make your characters life-like. Whether they are human or animal, they are the lifeblood of your story. Main characters need to have more detail and a background/history.

Setting—Denotes a story’s timeline and place. A setting may be merely a backdrop, such as a home, school or park. Another kind of setting is the action setting that either creates or is directly related to the story’s conflict, like the storm in “The Wizard of Oz.”

Theme—This is the point of the story. It’s important not to have your story be devoid of ethical or moral content. By adding this element, you will have a more satisfying story and some degree of healthy growth or change in the main character—about themselves, others, his world, and perhaps about the larger world beyond.  

Please note: Young readers do not want to feel a moral is being taught while reading. The primary purpose of a story is to entertain…not point to an explicit moral. Let me say this again another way…stories entertain while hiding the moral being taught to the young readers.

When working on Setting  and your story form a common term you’ll hear is the “Rule of 3”. This means your main character must go through three challenges (each one bigger than the first) before resolving the problem/conflict. This helps build climax and keeps the pacing of the story engaging for young readers.

Note a good story’s form will seem natural and organic to the reader. The opening paragraph leads logically into the second and then third; the middle, climax and resolution all seem part of the natural flow. Nothing feels added in as an afterthought or just there for the mere purpose of detail.

Many factors may determine the climax and resolution of your story from a lucky chance to a surprising turn of events. No matter the problem (which can take form as an urgent conflict, puzzle, question or challenge) the plot structure is the strongest and most compelling when it generates suspense for the reader. 

It’s important to remember that the main character resolves the problem and must go through some type effort—a crucial action or decision that constitutes the story’s climax before the problem is resolved.

Master this classical story style first and then you can apply its lesson to other kinds of stories.


Writing Prompt:
Use the list of 20 words below that have no obvious relationship to one another or pick your own words and throw them into a hat/bowl. Choose up to 5 words and try and working them into a story for young readers; or you may choose a single word as an idea-starter, letting it suggest other words and concepts via the process called “clustering”.

Be creative and have fun!

Brainstorming Words:

Whisper           Flag                 Patch               Leap
Candle             Slide                Cup                 Sing
Brush               Float                Park                Fell
Bark                Sky                  Warm              Flip
Pancakes         Bag                  Crack              Rainbow

Friday, July 13, 2012

Why You Want Your Writers Group To Be Like Your Tennis Partner

by Scott Rhoades

If you have ever been serious about improving your tennis game, you know that the best approach is to play against people who are slightly better than you are. You want to play against players who challenge you, and who will most likely beat you, but against whom you have a chance to win when you're really on your game.

It doesn't do you any good to play against somebody whose serve is unreturnable. Likewise, you don't want to play against someone who can't return your serve. If your opponent is too good, you're more likely to get discouraged and give up than you are to improve. If your opponent can't keep the ball in the court, you're not going to get any better.

The ideal tennis partner is one who forces you to give your best if you're going to stand a chance, but who you can beat, even if it's only once in every ten matches.

Your writers group should be similar. If you want to get better, you need to be in a group where the other members are good enough to challenge you, and who know enough to point out the areas where you can do better.

Writing is a complex exercise, so it's possible to excel in one part of the game while needing a lot of help in others. The ideal group is composed of people who are excellent in different areas, and who can each push the other members to improve that part of their game, while still benefiting from the expertise the other members have in other areas.

I'm lucky enough to be in a group where each member excels in at least one area of writing, but nobody is so dominant that the others can't contribute. We have people who are excellent at voice, at grammar, at plot, story concepts, characterization, queries, and other aspects of writing. Each of us has our areas where we excel and our areas where we need help. Nobody dominates, and when somebody can't participate for one reason or another, their strengths are missed. People who are less experienced are no less important because there are things that they do especially well, or problems they are especially good at spotting in the work of others. People who are more experienced aren't so amazingly good that they have nothing to learn from the rest of us.

We all have strengths and weaknesses, and we also have some areas where everyone in the group needs to improve. You know what I mean--those things that are hard to see in your own writing but are easy to spot in others' work. In our case, it seems to be bringing out the emotional responses of characters.

If you've ever been in a group where one person dominates and others always defer to his or her expertise, then you know how easy it is to lose the balance that makes a group work. Plus, you have to wonder what the dominant member of the group really gets out of it, when nobody else can help him or her improve.

So, when you look for a group, find one that is going to force you to grow and stretch you skills, but who will not leave you discouraged and feeling outclassed. Your game won't get any better if every serve is an ace. You also won't improve if you consistently win without giving your best effort.

Getting creamed in any game is no fun. Neither is creaming the other guy every time. Every game should require you to play your best, and should reward you when you have a good day.

There are so many writers out there with so many skill levels that you should be able to find the right group. I wish you luck in your search. It can make the difference between continuous improvement or stagnation.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

The Great Chain of Rejection

by Deren Hansen

Summer is full upon us and in the Northern Hemisphere there riot of life is in full swing in our yards and gardens and open spaces. With the web of nature promiscuously displayed outside our windows my thoughts turned to the literary ecosystem in which we're enmeshed and I wanted to share a cheery thought:

Welcome to the Great Chain of Rejection that is publishing!

Think about it. The agonizing rejection we regularly enjoy as would-be scribblers is only the first link in a great chain of rejection:

  • agents reject authors
  • editors reject agents
  • publishers (or internal surrogates like the publishing committee or the sales team) reject editors
  • and readers reject publishers

Viewed in its entirety, it is a thing of beauty (cue Circle of Life from The Lion King). Your one small rejection is part of the great web of rejections that is publishing.

It's not fun, but it means you're living the writing life--where it is true that, "that which doesn't kill us makes us stronger."

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

The Writer's Life

A picture's worth a thousand words right? I found this one really entertaining and think that it can also beautifully illustrate a writers' viewpoint throughout life. (And writes most of my post for me;))

As writers we have an obligation to always be searching for and analyzing experiences and ideas. We can get ideas from everywhere and always have stories forming and unraveling in our heads throughout everything we do. As we go about life we can always be preparing for when we get back to the keyboard, so that we are ready to dig deep into the human experience, spruce it up a bit, and work to both provide entertainment, and to communicate the deep emotion and experience that readers can relate to and get involved with.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Keep Writing: Spotlight with Sands Hetherington

Have you said or heard others say the following:
"I'm retired and writing my book ideas is just not in the cards. I'll be dead before they see publication."
"I grew up in a time kids just don't understand anymore. My ideas are old and not of interest to the kids these days."

I'm here to tell you no matter your age (young or old) and no matter your idea (from your childhood to completely made up) writing is only about the story inside waiting to come out. It is a passion waiting to be shared with young minds and author Sands Hetherington is a true example to all of us with his debut series of books Night Buddies.

Night Buddies and the Pineapple Cheesecake Scare by Sands Hetherington is an after lights-out adventure story that will delight young readers and middle graders who relish roller coaster fantasy and fun, filled with unforgettable characters and an astonishing and inventive collection of magical whatchamacallits.

The book is all about the nighttime adventures of a young boy named John, who is not ready to go to sleep, and his friend, a bright red crocodile named Crosley who turns up under John’s bed.

They sneak out of John’s house using Crosley’s “I-ain’t-here-doodad” which makes them invisible to John’s parents. They then embark on an adventure chasing down enemies and cleaning up one mess after another as they solve the earthshaking mystery: who stole all the pineapple cheesecakes from the only factory in the world that makes them! 
Sands Hetherington credits his son John for being his principal motivator. “We always did bedtime stories, and one night John presented me with Crosley, a red crocodile he had cooked up for an after-lights-out companion.  All I needed to do was figure out why Crosley was red, and then sneak the two of them out of the house on an adventure,” shared Sands.

Sands raised his son as a single parent from the time John was six. He read to him every night during those formative years. He and young John developed the Crosley crocodile character in the series during months of bedtime story give-and-take.

Like all authors, Sands Hetherington had his fair share of rejection letters. He said during the interview “I did get discouraged, but I guess I always thought I was good enough, and when the John-and-Crosley idea presented itself to me, I couldn't resist.”

Sands also admitted it wasn’t always easy writing. Lurking in the shadows and waiting to strike was Writer’s Block! “Not full-blown "writer's block" where you sit there and stare at the paper and nothing comes for days.  But I've gotten into plenty of plot situations that I didn't know how to squirm out of, and I've come to places and just not known what to say next.  When this happened to Dickens, he took late night walks around London.  I do think walking helps,” shared Sands.

Night Buddies is an astonishing and inventive adventure that will make you laugh and win over your heart. The book has lots of thoughtful, multi-layered twists, giggles, and perils -- things kids can relate to and enjoy. 

Night Buddies and the Pineapple Cheesecake Scare is the first in a series and is filled with well-drawn fascinating characters embellished with some excellent illustrations by Jessica Love. The fonts change with emotion and circumstances, a fact that makes every page a little artwork that keep the child’s eye involved in the book. And just to make sure the youngsters reading this book have the inside information for a mystery, a glossary of ‘Night Buddies Uncommon Words’ is supplied – explaining ‘Jeeks’, ‘Wuff’, ‘Snerk!’ etc. 

Sands also shared some advice for those wanting to pick a pen and become a writer. 

Set up a schedule and stick to it religiously.  Don't try to write all day or you probably won't last.  Two or three hours may be plenty.  I try to do what Hemingway suggested.  He said stop for the day at a place it will be easy to start from the next day.  Then the next day read over what's already there so everything will be of a piece.

In closing, my book website is  
Night Buddies and the Pineapple Cheesecake Scare is available on  There are some generous reviews there.  Also  Night Buddies, Imposters, and One Far-Out Flying Machine will appear this fall and is a much longer book.

Thanks for having me!”
Sands Hetherington was born in New York City in 1939 and moved to Greensboro, NC, two years later.  Except for schools and some months in California, he never left.  Sands didn't finish tenth grade, but got into NC state university by the back door.  He has two advanced degrees, two children and two Saint Bernards. Sands majored in history at the University of North Carolina (Chapel Hill) and has an M.F.A. in creative writing and an M.A. in English from UNC-Greensboro.

The World of Ink Network will be touring author Sands Hetherington’s nighttime adventure for kids, Night Buddies and the Pineapple Cheesecake Scare published by Dune Buggy Press all through July and August 2012. You can find out more about Sands Hetherington’s World of Ink Author/Book Tour at

Get a sneak peek of the book at

To learn more about the World of Ink Tours visit

Thursday, July 5, 2012

The Grandeur of a Marble

This is a marble.

I would call it a fairly ordinary one. It's made of glass, small. You could probably pick up a bag of marbles just like these at a dollar store.

I want to invite you to try something with me. 

Find a clear marble like this one. 

Take it, and hold very close to your eye, and look through it to the light.

You will be surprised, if you have never done it before, to see worlds. 

Yes. Worlds. Try it. Look inside. You will see stars and planets and solar systems, suspended beautifully in the glass of the marble. You can almost see them in this one. But you can't see the full grandeur of it unless you are willing to look closely, to risk looking a bit like a fool with a marble in your eye.

Yes, I used the word grandeur. Sometimes the smallest things are the grandest. 

Sometimes, we think in order to find grandeur, we must write grand tall stories. We think an epic setting or an epic length or an epic time in history will give us what we want. But I think that may be taking it all the wrong way. 

There are very, very few things grander than a human soul. And yet, there are so many of us around that perhaps we begin to think of ourselves as commonplace. Perhaps, unconsciously. we feel we are as mundane as a clear glass marble. 

But I think that if a book was able to open up the grandeur of a single human, for just a glimpse of the beauty... then that book is of more worth than a hundred epic settings and all the epic scope in the world. Such a book would not have to create grandeur - it would simply show it for what it was.

Beginning with ourselves, we must become willing to look a tiny bit the fool as we hold ourselves up to the light - and then, as we understand ourselves, then we can begin to understand others. As we understand others, as we see them for who they really are, we can begin to see how incredibly remarkable humanity can be. 

:) And as we are doing all this, we can write about it. 

And our words, I think, can have that beauty and grandeur that we all would like to have.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

E Pluribus Unum

by Deren Hansen

The word, "holiday," comes from holy day--a day set apart from quotidian concerns. To paraphrase the Danish prince badly, we honor most of them with a breach rather than an observance.

Independence Day, though entirely secular, is one holiday we ought to observe. In this time when it seems our public discourse is almost entirely given over to shouting about the things that separate us, we need to remember what binds us together into a whole that can be, in our finest moments, greater than the sum of its parts.

E pluribus unum: out of many, one.

There's also a lesson there for us as writers: a story is a way of organizing ideas into a coherent whole that is greater than the sum of its parts.

Take time today to look past the flags, fireworks, and fly-overs and try to comprehend the vast community, seething with conflicting interests, that makes all of this possible.

And take time, either in the context of your current project or a separate piece, to write about it.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Our 2nd Annual Blog Contest WINNERS

1st with 28 votes: 

Grandma Jenn: I know there is a big humongous scary monster under my bed because
I can hear him snore at night.

2nd with 19 votes:

LizzieIf my parents would have told me I was a Guardian, with a family obligation to protect the world, I could have planned a little better.

3rd with 17 votes: 

TrinityI know they're coming, it's just a matter of time.

4th with 8 votes:  

BruceOkay, let’s be up front about something: I’m a dog.

We have 4 prizes and we'll let each person pick one until they are all gone. Will the winners all email me at