Thursday, June 29, 2017

This week marks the 20th anniversary of the publication of Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone (know in the US as Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone because publishers assume American readers are too dumb to pick up anything with philosopher in the title, or know anything about medieval history or alchemy...but I digress).

Dumbledore's costume, WB studio tour, London (my photo)
I was first introduced to the series shortly after the first two books became available through Scholastic in the US. A reading specialist in my book group felt we just had to give them a try. She reads heaps of kidlit and knew these books were something special, bringing together tropes from fantasy, mythology, coming of age, and boarding school stories. They're fun and smart and got reluctant readers willing to work through their reading struggles to find out what happens next.

Having my husband read the series aloud to me, so we could enjoy the books together, became one of the defining bonding experiences of my early married years. He has gone on to develop college courses that suss out philosophical themes in the books, and has given a number of conference talks and published books chapters on epistemology and ethics in Rowling's work.

My contribution to Harry Potter fandom has been largely connected with this blog. I've participated in some blog hops, did a series of thematic character analyses, and eventually spun off a short-lived online fan 'zine.

So for your enjoyment, I offer links to my many Harry Potter-themed offerings.

Literary analyses

The Slow Growing Hero (Neville Longbottom)
What Makes a Villain? Part 1: The Dursleys and Malfoys
What Makes a Villain? Part 2: Umbridge and Voldemort
What Makes a Villain? Part 3: A Hero in Villain's Clothing (Severus Snape)

Thestral Gazette


I created this fan-fiction "underground newspaper" with a team, to provide muckraker-style "yellow journalism" pieces about "hidden Hogwarts revealed by those in the know." Pieces are cross-posted HERE.

Mrs. Norris's Secret Identity Revealed
Gilderoy Lockhart's Exciting New Book Release!
Snape's Secret Admirer
Fast, Loose, and Aria-Belting: Professors After Hours
Viktor Krum Reuintes with Former Girlfriend
Discovery: Mer-mating
Umbridge Unmasked
Ask Abby Gabby: Advice for Wizards and Witches (first feature)
Advice for Wizards and Witches (second feature)
Being Bullied? Weasel Your Way Out
Elves Gone Wild
Cauldron Chatter: Cloaked Items (gossip column)
Special Report from Hogwarts Florida Campus

Blog Hop posts

The Benefit of Books First (guest post by the hubs)
Wrock on! About the fandom creation "wizard rock"
Quidditch anyone? About collegiate "muggle quidditch" teams
Spinning New Yarns: Fan Fiction and Fan Art
Ravenclaw Heaven: Harry Potter meets Academia
Who Would Be Your Mates? Create a friend trio with two Hogwarts students

Miscellany

Harry Potter themed party ideas part I and part II
My photos from the Harry Potter WB Studio Tour near London and Hogwarts meme

And for fun, a quick list of my favorites:

Book in series: Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire
Film: Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
Male character: Neville Longbottom
Female character: Hermione Granger
Professor: Remus Lupin
Scene: Escape from Gringott's in Deathly Hallows
Spell: Accio (summoning spell)
Method of transit: aparation
Magical creature: House elves
Magical event: Yule Ball

How long have you been a Harry Potter fan? What are your favorites from the list above?

Thursday, June 29, 2017 Laurel Garver
This week marks the 20th anniversary of the publication of Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone (know in the US as Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone because publishers assume American readers are too dumb to pick up anything with philosopher in the title, or know anything about medieval history or alchemy...but I digress).

Dumbledore's costume, WB studio tour, London (my photo)
I was first introduced to the series shortly after the first two books became available through Scholastic in the US. A reading specialist in my book group felt we just had to give them a try. She reads heaps of kidlit and knew these books were something special, bringing together tropes from fantasy, mythology, coming of age, and boarding school stories. They're fun and smart and got reluctant readers willing to work through their reading struggles to find out what happens next.

Having my husband read the series aloud to me, so we could enjoy the books together, became one of the defining bonding experiences of my early married years. He has gone on to develop college courses that suss out philosophical themes in the books, and has given a number of conference talks and published books chapters on epistemology and ethics in Rowling's work.

My contribution to Harry Potter fandom has been largely connected with this blog. I've participated in some blog hops, did a series of thematic character analyses, and eventually spun off a short-lived online fan 'zine.

So for your enjoyment, I offer links to my many Harry Potter-themed offerings.

Literary analyses

The Slow Growing Hero (Neville Longbottom)
What Makes a Villain? Part 1: The Dursleys and Malfoys
What Makes a Villain? Part 2: Umbridge and Voldemort
What Makes a Villain? Part 3: A Hero in Villain's Clothing (Severus Snape)

Thestral Gazette


I created this fan-fiction "underground newspaper" with a team, to provide muckraker-style "yellow journalism" pieces about "hidden Hogwarts revealed by those in the know." Pieces are cross-posted HERE.

Mrs. Norris's Secret Identity Revealed
Gilderoy Lockhart's Exciting New Book Release!
Snape's Secret Admirer
Fast, Loose, and Aria-Belting: Professors After Hours
Viktor Krum Reuintes with Former Girlfriend
Discovery: Mer-mating
Umbridge Unmasked
Ask Abby Gabby: Advice for Wizards and Witches (first feature)
Advice for Wizards and Witches (second feature)
Being Bullied? Weasel Your Way Out
Elves Gone Wild
Cauldron Chatter: Cloaked Items (gossip column)
Special Report from Hogwarts Florida Campus

Blog Hop posts

The Benefit of Books First (guest post by the hubs)
Wrock on! About the fandom creation "wizard rock"
Quidditch anyone? About collegiate "muggle quidditch" teams
Spinning New Yarns: Fan Fiction and Fan Art
Ravenclaw Heaven: Harry Potter meets Academia
Who Would Be Your Mates? Create a friend trio with two Hogwarts students

Miscellany

Harry Potter themed party ideas part I and part II
My photos from the Harry Potter WB Studio Tour near London and Hogwarts meme

And for fun, a quick list of my favorites:

Book in series: Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire
Film: Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
Male character: Neville Longbottom
Female character: Hermione Granger
Professor: Remus Lupin
Scene: Escape from Gringott's in Deathly Hallows
Spell: Accio (summoning spell)
Method of transit: aparation
Magical creature: House elves
Magical event: Yule Ball

How long have you been a Harry Potter fan? What are your favorites from the list above?

Thursday, June 22, 2017

I write stories about teens facing real-world problems in a today-ish setting. I say today-ish, because the biggest dilemma of writing a contemporary story is this:

The world doesn't stand still while you write. Major changes happen every day, to cultures, to landmarks, to technology.

Those unanticipated changes can make your story absolutely laughable.

I'll give an example from one of my books. I started writing it after a trip to the UK in 2006, and had spent the weeks doing heavy on-the-ground research. But for various reasons I won't go into here, I didn't finally publish that book until 2012.

Guess what happened in the UK in 2012? The London Summer Olympics.

One of my scenes that takes place in a London train station, which I'd blocked out step by step in 2006, couldn't have happened the year I published. Big modifications were made to all rail stations in anticipation of the Olympics that upped the level of security. Yet I knew readers would expect my "contemporary" story published in 2012 to be set in 2012.

So what's a writer to do?

Backdate your story. It's that simple.

I now call my stories "near historical" because they are set in the late-2000s (Never Gone, 2007-08; Almost There, 2009). This enables me to "lock down" particular landmarks, technologies, and character interaction with world history (for example, my protagonist would be old enough to actually remember 9/11). It helped me make decisions about what tech would be available and most likely used, considering my characters' socio-economic backgrounds. The rapid change of tech and trends among teens alone makes "near historical" a good option for YA contemporary authors.

How you add in time markers depends on your story. Here are some ideas:

Dated chapter titles
Dated correspondence (snail mail, e-mail) within the story
News headlines or broadcasts (quoted or paraphrased)
Mentions of historic events
Mentions of time spans
Mentions of birth or death dates
Character participation (direct or indirect) in historic events

What do you think of the "contemporary fiction dilemma"? What other solutions besides writing "near historical" have you seen used effectively?


Thursday, June 22, 2017 Laurel Garver
I write stories about teens facing real-world problems in a today-ish setting. I say today-ish, because the biggest dilemma of writing a contemporary story is this:

The world doesn't stand still while you write. Major changes happen every day, to cultures, to landmarks, to technology.

Those unanticipated changes can make your story absolutely laughable.

I'll give an example from one of my books. I started writing it after a trip to the UK in 2006, and had spent the weeks doing heavy on-the-ground research. But for various reasons I won't go into here, I didn't finally publish that book until 2012.

Guess what happened in the UK in 2012? The London Summer Olympics.

One of my scenes that takes place in a London train station, which I'd blocked out step by step in 2006, couldn't have happened the year I published. Big modifications were made to all rail stations in anticipation of the Olympics that upped the level of security. Yet I knew readers would expect my "contemporary" story published in 2012 to be set in 2012.

So what's a writer to do?

Backdate your story. It's that simple.

I now call my stories "near historical" because they are set in the late-2000s (Never Gone, 2007-08; Almost There, 2009). This enables me to "lock down" particular landmarks, technologies, and character interaction with world history (for example, my protagonist would be old enough to actually remember 9/11). It helped me make decisions about what tech would be available and most likely used, considering my characters' socio-economic backgrounds. The rapid change of tech and trends among teens alone makes "near historical" a good option for YA contemporary authors.

How you add in time markers depends on your story. Here are some ideas:

Dated chapter titles
Dated correspondence (snail mail, e-mail) within the story
News headlines or broadcasts (quoted or paraphrased)
Mentions of historic events
Mentions of time spans
Mentions of birth or death dates
Character participation (direct or indirect) in historic events

What do you think of the "contemporary fiction dilemma"? What other solutions besides writing "near historical" have you seen used effectively?


Thursday, June 08, 2017

When I first started this blog in 2009, blog "awards" were all the rage. I think 2010-11 was a peak period, in which I received and passed along more than a dozen. By 2013 no one was doing them any more, and it made me a little sad. I can see how they might seem like public chain letters, but by golly they are fun. They give you something entertaining to blog about when all your creativity has gone into finishing a fantastic chapter the night before.

So I will not be joining the anti-blog-award brigade. Nope. I'll be having some fun. So here goes....

There are rules to this award, of course…
Rule 1: Put the award logo/image on your blog.

Rule 2: List the rules.

Rule 3: Thank whoever nominated you and provide a link to their blog.

Big thanks for the nomination to awesome A-Z Blogging challenge co-host J. Lenni Dorner, who I knew on Twitter for some time before becoming blog buddies.

Rule 4: Mention the creator of the award and provide a link as well.
About the creator: Okoto Enigma’s blog 
The creator’s name, Enigma, means mystery, thus the title of the award.

Rule 5: Tell your readers three things about yourself.

1) I can identify nearly any early 1980s pop song within five measures or less. I was obsessed with America's Top 40 in my misspent youth. (I could have been memorizing Pi to the 400th decimal place or all the world capitals or something a little less frivolous). My husband sometimes makes me demonstrate my skill for guests.

2) I did props management and set decoration for about a dozen college productions, as well as for some community theatre shows. Once I'm an empty nester, I will likely take it up again. It is so much fun to build the material culture for a play.

3) I'm convinced that one of my childhood homes was haunted. We often heard movement in distant rooms, and one of the bedrooms had a distinct cold spot. I sensed the presence of our ghost more than once, particularly in the daytime when playing alone. My sense was that it was a young woman who'd perhaps died in childbirth and continued going about the business of taking care of her family, as if unaware she was dead.

Rule 6: Nominate other bloggers. (I'm going to cheat a little on this one. Twenty is a bit much).

Faith Hough
Jean Davis
Nick Wilford
Samantha Dunaway Bryant
Tyrean Martinson

Rule 7: Notify those people.

Rule 8: Ask your nominee any five questions of your choice, plus one weird or funny question.

The questions I have for my nominees are:
1) What are three things on your "bucket list"?
2) Which authors have influenced you in terms of genre, style, or theme?
3) What book's milieu (place, time, culture) would you most like to live in?
4) What are your favorite writing resources?
5) What's the best book you've read recently?
Fun/weird bonus:  Have you ever developed a "book crush" on a fictional character? Who and why?


I was asked
1) What is the most memorable trait or visual oddity of a fictional book character you’ve read?

Anne Shirley's intense flights of fancy into imaginary worlds (Anne of Green Gables series). I didn't read the books until post-college and felt like L.M. Montgomery could have been writing my girlhood (minus the orphan thing, and living in the 1880s, obvs).

2) What most motivates you to buy a new book to read?

New printed books are a purchase I have to justify because of the space issue and the expense. I have to be convinced I will read it more than once, use it as a resource or model text, or will likely share it. A great sale might also convince me. I'm freer about picking up used books and ebooks--the former aren't as big an expense, the latter less a clutter creator.

3) How do YOU make an educated guess as to if a book by an author you haven’t read before will be “good” BEFORE you read any of it?

The description has to grab me. I can more quickly get past an ugly cover than this. And I never buy or download stuff--even freebies--without reading a sample. Because a great cover blurb of an interesting premise sometimes doesn't translate into style that draws me in. I'm a voice-driven writer and tend to be a voice-driven reader also.

4) What’s your favorite comfort food?

Mashed potatoes. My husband has a killer technique of boiling garlic cloves with the potatoes, then hand-mashing the cooked garlic into the cooked potatoes, along with sour cream, butter, and white pepper.

5) Where do you look for blogging inspiration?

My monthly critique group meetings often provide fodder, as does Twitter--sometimes a random post will catch my eye, sometimes a grammar or spelling error in a tweet will inspire an editing topic.

Weird/funny question: Do you have a celebrity encounter story you can share?

I am almost phobic about rubbing elbows with someone famous and doing something stupid, so I tend to go out of my way to avoid contact, even when given special access, like at comic conventions. So if there's a celebrity around, I will be trying to quietly creep away.


Rule 9: Share a link to my blog’s best post.
Rebel that I am, I'll share two. :-)

One of my analyses of Harry Potter characters continues to get the most hits. It's third in a series

What makes a villain? Part 3: Hero in Villain's Clothing

A newer post with nearly as many page views is this one on my revision process:

How I Do It: Identifying Story Weaknesses

Q4U: Do you miss the "good old days" of writing blogs (before 2012)? 
Answer any (or all) of my six questions listed under "rule 8."
Thursday, June 08, 2017 Laurel Garver
When I first started this blog in 2009, blog "awards" were all the rage. I think 2010-11 was a peak period, in which I received and passed along more than a dozen. By 2013 no one was doing them any more, and it made me a little sad. I can see how they might seem like public chain letters, but by golly they are fun. They give you something entertaining to blog about when all your creativity has gone into finishing a fantastic chapter the night before.

So I will not be joining the anti-blog-award brigade. Nope. I'll be having some fun. So here goes....

There are rules to this award, of course…
Rule 1: Put the award logo/image on your blog.

Rule 2: List the rules.

Rule 3: Thank whoever nominated you and provide a link to their blog.

Big thanks for the nomination to awesome A-Z Blogging challenge co-host J. Lenni Dorner, who I knew on Twitter for some time before becoming blog buddies.

Rule 4: Mention the creator of the award and provide a link as well.
About the creator: Okoto Enigma’s blog 
The creator’s name, Enigma, means mystery, thus the title of the award.

Rule 5: Tell your readers three things about yourself.

1) I can identify nearly any early 1980s pop song within five measures or less. I was obsessed with America's Top 40 in my misspent youth. (I could have been memorizing Pi to the 400th decimal place or all the world capitals or something a little less frivolous). My husband sometimes makes me demonstrate my skill for guests.

2) I did props management and set decoration for about a dozen college productions, as well as for some community theatre shows. Once I'm an empty nester, I will likely take it up again. It is so much fun to build the material culture for a play.

3) I'm convinced that one of my childhood homes was haunted. We often heard movement in distant rooms, and one of the bedrooms had a distinct cold spot. I sensed the presence of our ghost more than once, particularly in the daytime when playing alone. My sense was that it was a young woman who'd perhaps died in childbirth and continued going about the business of taking care of her family, as if unaware she was dead.

Rule 6: Nominate other bloggers. (I'm going to cheat a little on this one. Twenty is a bit much).

Faith Hough
Jean Davis
Nick Wilford
Samantha Dunaway Bryant
Tyrean Martinson

Rule 7: Notify those people.

Rule 8: Ask your nominee any five questions of your choice, plus one weird or funny question.

The questions I have for my nominees are:
1) What are three things on your "bucket list"?
2) Which authors have influenced you in terms of genre, style, or theme?
3) What book's milieu (place, time, culture) would you most like to live in?
4) What are your favorite writing resources?
5) What's the best book you've read recently?
Fun/weird bonus:  Have you ever developed a "book crush" on a fictional character? Who and why?


I was asked
1) What is the most memorable trait or visual oddity of a fictional book character you’ve read?

Anne Shirley's intense flights of fancy into imaginary worlds (Anne of Green Gables series). I didn't read the books until post-college and felt like L.M. Montgomery could have been writing my girlhood (minus the orphan thing, and living in the 1880s, obvs).

2) What most motivates you to buy a new book to read?

New printed books are a purchase I have to justify because of the space issue and the expense. I have to be convinced I will read it more than once, use it as a resource or model text, or will likely share it. A great sale might also convince me. I'm freer about picking up used books and ebooks--the former aren't as big an expense, the latter less a clutter creator.

3) How do YOU make an educated guess as to if a book by an author you haven’t read before will be “good” BEFORE you read any of it?

The description has to grab me. I can more quickly get past an ugly cover than this. And I never buy or download stuff--even freebies--without reading a sample. Because a great cover blurb of an interesting premise sometimes doesn't translate into style that draws me in. I'm a voice-driven writer and tend to be a voice-driven reader also.

4) What’s your favorite comfort food?

Mashed potatoes. My husband has a killer technique of boiling garlic cloves with the potatoes, then hand-mashing the cooked garlic into the cooked potatoes, along with sour cream, butter, and white pepper.

5) Where do you look for blogging inspiration?

My monthly critique group meetings often provide fodder, as does Twitter--sometimes a random post will catch my eye, sometimes a grammar or spelling error in a tweet will inspire an editing topic.

Weird/funny question: Do you have a celebrity encounter story you can share?

I am almost phobic about rubbing elbows with someone famous and doing something stupid, so I tend to go out of my way to avoid contact, even when given special access, like at comic conventions. So if there's a celebrity around, I will be trying to quietly creep away.


Rule 9: Share a link to my blog’s best post.
Rebel that I am, I'll share two. :-)

One of my analyses of Harry Potter characters continues to get the most hits. It's third in a series

What makes a villain? Part 3: Hero in Villain's Clothing

A newer post with nearly as many page views is this one on my revision process:

How I Do It: Identifying Story Weaknesses

Q4U: Do you miss the "good old days" of writing blogs (before 2012)? 
Answer any (or all) of my six questions listed under "rule 8."

Thursday, June 01, 2017

True confession. I feel like I ought to like reading romances. I generally prefer a happy ending to a sad one. But each time I've tried one--especially the Kindle First offerings to Prime members--I've been disappointed.

The romance plot model has become so entrenched, it no longer allows room for any genuine surprises. I know there will be some dumb thing that separates heroine and hero at roughly the midpoint and that dumb thing will clear up in a matter of chapters. I know the heroine will be beautiful, as will the hero, though one or both will be clueless about this or insecure in some way. If one of them has a deep, dark secret, the counterpart will have a corresponding one. Even in the hands of a great wordsmith, the formula clunks along as usual, boring me to tears.

I'd love to know if there are established writers out there who have earned a free pass to write plots that don't follow the predictable formula of boy-meets-girl, boy-loses-girl, boy-wins-girl-back-again. I'd like to see some heroines who aren't the usual healthy, educated, white, and beautiful. How about a blind protagonist, or one with a learning disability, or someone biracial or average looking but brainy, or even disfigured (say an amputee veteran)? You find characters like this in literary fiction, women's fiction, romantic comedy, YA and MG. It would be great to see their love stories, and have a departure from the same-old, same-old.


Is there a genre you've tried but just can't connect to? Why do you think that is? 

Is there a romance author doing something unique I might actually enjoy? Do tell. 


Thursday, June 01, 2017 Laurel Garver
True confession. I feel like I ought to like reading romances. I generally prefer a happy ending to a sad one. But each time I've tried one--especially the Kindle First offerings to Prime members--I've been disappointed.

The romance plot model has become so entrenched, it no longer allows room for any genuine surprises. I know there will be some dumb thing that separates heroine and hero at roughly the midpoint and that dumb thing will clear up in a matter of chapters. I know the heroine will be beautiful, as will the hero, though one or both will be clueless about this or insecure in some way. If one of them has a deep, dark secret, the counterpart will have a corresponding one. Even in the hands of a great wordsmith, the formula clunks along as usual, boring me to tears.

I'd love to know if there are established writers out there who have earned a free pass to write plots that don't follow the predictable formula of boy-meets-girl, boy-loses-girl, boy-wins-girl-back-again. I'd like to see some heroines who aren't the usual healthy, educated, white, and beautiful. How about a blind protagonist, or one with a learning disability, or someone biracial or average looking but brainy, or even disfigured (say an amputee veteran)? You find characters like this in literary fiction, women's fiction, romantic comedy, YA and MG. It would be great to see their love stories, and have a departure from the same-old, same-old.


Is there a genre you've tried but just can't connect to? Why do you think that is? 

Is there a romance author doing something unique I might actually enjoy? Do tell.