Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Lessons From Austin Powers

This week I finished reading a book I couldn't wait to get my hands on, because I loved the last book I'd read by the same author. It took me a couple months to read, though--sure, I've had other stuff going on to distract me, but I didn't have that can't-put-it-down feeling I get when I really, really love a book. You know the ones, where you look up at the end and notice your house is a mess and your family is hungry? Wasn't happening here. 

Although my writing so far has been only realistic fiction, I read all different genres, so I'm willing to do my share of suspending disbelief. Traveling in a spaceship to live on a new planet? Yeah, let's see what that's like. Vampires sitting at the next table in the cafeteria? Sure. I may even spend time debating whether I'd prefer a werewolf boyfriend or a vampire boyfriend. (Not saying I've done that. But if I did, I'd pick werewolf.) 

But in any book, the real-life stuff has to be believable. If it isn't, that's when I start thinking about Austin Powers. 

We can actually learn a lot about writing by watching that groovy international man of mystery and his nemesis, Dr. Evil:

"Start the unnecessarily slow-moving dipping mechanism!" Here's a great bit of dialog from the first movie, Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery, between Dr. Evil and son Scott:  

Dr. Evil: Scott, I want you to meet daddy's nemesis, Austin Powers.
Scott Evil: What? Are you feeding him? Why don't you just kill him?
Dr. Evil: I have an even better idea. I'm going to place him in an easily escapable situation involving an overly elaborate and exotic death. 

And later, when Austin and Vanessa are suspended above the tank they'll be lowered into:

Dr. Evil: All right guard, begin the unnecessarily slow-moving dipping mechanism.
Close the tank!
Scott: Wait, aren't you even going to watch them? They could get away!
Dr. Evil: No no no, I'm going to leave them alone and not actually witness them dying, I'm just gonna assume it all went to plan. What?
Scott: I have a gun, in my room, you give me five seconds, I'll get it, I'll come back down here, BOOM, I'll blow their brains out!
Dr. Evil: Scott, you just don't get it, do ya? You don't.

Is your antagonist acting like a parody of a villain? Are your readers going to feel annoyed and frustrated like Scott and yell at the book, "Why don't you just shoot him?" Of course, you don't want your protagonist to die or your story would be over. But if someone's out to get her, why don't they catch her right away? There has to be a reason they miss, a reason for the chase. Does the heroine somehow evade her pursuer, just when he's gotten close? That's suspenseful. Or does the villain have a chance to stop her, but let her go because he's holding out for something more dramatic? That's Dr. Evil. If the bad guys are out to get us, they're not going to wait around for sharks with frickin' laser beams attached to their heads.

"A lot's changed since 1967." Technology and language changes from one year to the next, even. Unless it's meant to add authenticity to a historical setting, avoid using slang that can make your book seem dated within a couple years. If your character's dialog doesn't ring true--he no longer sounds like himself, he's talking like his mom or like someone who grew up in the 80s instead of now--you pull your readers right out of the story. Keep up with what's going on in the world and with your audience so you won't sound like someone who's been cryogenically frozen for thirty years.

"You're semi-evil. You're quasi-evil. You're the margarine of evil. You're the diet Coke of evil. Just one calorie, not evil enough." The Austin Powers movies have no shortage of one-dimensional bad guys. Dr. Evil and is henchmen are funny in the movie, but we don't want our own characters do be accidentally funny caricatures with all the emotional depth of Fembots. If characters have no flaws or weak moments, readers don't feel like they know them, because they don't know anyone who's all good or all bad. Don't you feel more connected to a story when you see what a character seems familiar to you? 

Think about the villains people love, or love to hate. Why is Hannibal Lecter such a memorable and convincing bad guy? None of us would want him living next door, but he's intriguing. If he were repulsive at every moment we'd turn away, but we see his human side too. He loves classical music. He's respectful to Clarice Starling, even cares about her, although they're on opposite sides of the law. (For more on how Hannibal Lecter can help with character development, here's a great post I came across on Suite 101.) 

If we saw Hannibal's evil plotting only, he'd be forgettable or laughable. We remember Hannibal; we laugh at Snidely Whiplash and Dr. Evil. 

Hey, where did that come from? That's something your readers should never have to ask. A character can defend herself with a nearby object if it fits the setting and we're not seeing it for the first time. We have to see the object in an earlier scene so we're not taken aback when it conveniently shows up right when she needs it. We're okay with the henchman Random Task throwing a shoe at Austin Powers in Goldmember, because it was introduced earlier as his weapon of choice, however ridiculous. But if your heroine grabs a pool cue from her car trunk during a fight and informs us just then that she was planning on taking pool lessons, we're going to be confused and annoyed by the deus ex machina-ness of the scene.

In this comical fight scene from Goldmember, some of the objects used as weapons make sense, like the mini bottle that Mini-Me grabs from the hotel minibar, but things like the inexplicable frying pan add to the absurdity of the scene.

Avoid the frying pan.

There are probably many more lessons we can learn from the smashing Austin Powers, but these are just a few to keep in mind while writing and revising. We give our story the attention it deserves when we work to create well-rounded, three-dimensional characters who act and speak in ways that make sense, within a setting that makes sense.

Putting in all that effort isn't the easy way out, but it's worth all the work you put into it. 'Cause when you get it right, it's a beautiful as sharks with frickin' laser beams attached to their frickin' heads.

Now stay shagadelic, babies!

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Swaggerin' In A Winter Wonderland

We woke up to find this post from agent Joanna Stampfel-Volpe in which she was looking especially...purple. And sparkly. She's always a ninja, as you can see from her epic battle scenes and as evidenced by her contract negotiation battle scars, but now she's looking even more stylish than usual. And she can keep warm.

Jo really liked the picture of Monica & me in our Snuggies in my agent celebration post, so we thought she might like one of her own. But we couldn't just get her a plain one. Even the animal print ones weren't unique enough. Thankfully we came across some inspiration from Lara Zielin's Bluggie commercial

Perfect! We shall decorate a Snuggie!

And what should we have embroidered on it? Her name, or a special title? What do you call someone who takes a manuscript you've written and entices editors to make a deal with her when she leans against an office wall asking, "Hey, need a book? I got just what you need."

Yes, that works nicely! It actually turned out more bejeweled than pictured here by the time I sent it-- there were a few stray spots of the super-duper adhesive I used, and nothing was going to remove it. So...cover with more jewels! (There's probably a writing lesson in there somewhere about revising or something. Perhaps that'll be another post.)

Here are the sleeves:

This is truly one of those times when it's better to give than receive; we had a lot of fun making this and we've been giggling about it for weeks.

To all of our agents, editors, friends and readers out there, may your days be sparkly and bright, and may all your Christmases be gold-embroidered.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

It's December!

November is over and you know what that not Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, not buying and wrapping and mailing, not cards and cooking and parties.

It means PiBoIdMo is over...YAY! That's Picture Book Idea Month in case you were wondering.

It means I wrote down an idea, title, detail, character or plot for each day in know, 30 wacked out, ridiculous, hilarious, sensational and best selling ideas.

This was the brain child of Tara Lazar and has caught on like hula hoops, pet rocks, and Beanie Babies. Everyday we read a post to inspire our creativity. These were wonderful and meant I could still be as silly as I wanted even though the last time I played Hi Ho Cherry-O, tried to lick my elbow, or turned a somersault was many a year ago!

Oh, the word possibilites to ponder...animals, names, aliens, the ocean, outer space, bugs, yo-yos, sparklers, monsters, and on and on and on. It was a chance to think short and crazy, long and hazey or even square and mazey!

I took my ideas to the Cakers at critique yesterday for an out loud reading. It's funny how they all seemed to agree on which ones appealed the most. And it also showed me which ones to consider first. The support I get from the Cakers is delicious. I'm fired up , ready to write, eternally hopeful as all writers must be.

Look out December, Doris is writing more than she is wrapping!

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Revising With Chocolate And Pirates

I'm sure everyone's been to those workshops or conferences that are just okay--the speakers are good, and you pick up one or two things you might use in your writing. Or a few days later you tell someone it was a good workshop, but you can't think of anything specific you learned. 

Nothing like what we went to last weekend.

Three of us Cakers--Christina, Laura and &--attended Darcy Pattison's amazing Novel Revision Retreat, hosted by the Brazos Valley SCBWI

Luckily, even a couple of rotting tires couldn't get in my way. Before leaving town I stopped for an oil change. "Change" may not be the right word, really. The way my jalopy leaks oil, it's more accurate to say "oil replacement." But I digress. The mechanic told me not to go anywhere without getting two dry-rotted tires replaced. I wondered if it would help to rub the tires with a really good moisturizer, perhaps a hydrating mask, but mechanics look at you funny if you suggest things like that. Seems what I was driving around on were about as sturdy as papier-mâché, so a detour to Discount Tire was next.

Finally, I was on my way for real. I got to the workshop only about 15 minutes late, and there was chocolate on the table! In bowls that kept getting refilled all weekend!

I'd used Darcy's book Novel Metamorphosis: Uncommon Ways to Revise while revising CHAINED, and it helped so much (like with adding those pesky feelings I've mentioned), but it was even better seeing the activities and discussing in our small groups how we could use what we'd learned to revise our own novels.

For several of the activities, we used our "shrunken manuscripts" (the full novel printed single-spaced in an 8 point font). You can read more about the shrunken manuscript here, and it's a great way to visualize the big-picture stuff in your novel. Here's an example:

So that's my whole novel on my living room floor. At the workshop I placed a blue "X" over the chapters I thought were the strongest. They're pretty well spread out throughout the beginning, middle, and end of the story, so that's good. If you do this for your own novel, see if there are huge gaps between chapters you marked. If the strong chapters are all at the beginning and at the end, the middle of the novel may not be interesting enough to keep a reader going till the end. If your first chapter isn't one you marked as strong, see if there's a better place to start telling the story.

In this next activity, we used different colors of highlighters to mark the sensory details in one scene. 

The scene is from chapter 3 of my YA novel REASONS FOR LEAVING. The main character, Minna, is lying in bed after being fired from yet another job. Here's an excerpt from that scene before the revision:

Our bulldog Marge walks in and climbs onto my bed. Well, not so much climbs, I guess. It's more like, she puts her front paws on the bed and waits for me to help her up. She always knows when I'm having a bad day. She licks my face once before lying down next to me. 

After highlighting the sensory details there (not too many, other than what she sees and the dog licking her face), I set the page aside and rewrote the scene, keeping in mind that it would be stronger with more sensory details. Here's the "after" excerpt:

Our bulldog Marge saunters in and climbs onto the bed. Well, not so much climbs. It's more like, she puts her paws on the edge of the bed and waits for me to hoist her up. She's panting from the effort, even though I'm the one doing the heavy lifting. Her breath smells bacony--like real bacon, not like those treats that look just like bacon (but trust me, taste nothing like bacon). 
"Margie, have you been getting into the trash?" She's probably been chewing on paper towels I threw away after making BLTs last night.
She licks my face once and flops down next to me. She always seems to know when I'm having a bad day.

I'm sure I'll end up tweaking that more as I revise, but just that couple minutes of scribbling results in a scene that works harder to bring the reader into the story with more sensory detail.

Later in the story, Marge throws a wrench into Minna's plans when she again gets into the trash and then the laundry, so the scene now does something Darcy mentioned she learned from Linda Sue Park: every chapter should have something that looks forward and something that looks back. When Marge does this again later, the reader will already know that this is a habit of hers.

Saturday night after taking waaaaay too long at dinner (What? The restaurant had a dessert called "ooey gooey chocolate cake"), we returned to the hotel meeting room to watch Pirates of the Caribbean. Can you believe I'd never seen it before? But even those who had seen it were able to watch it in a whole new way, because throughout the movie Darcy pointed out things we'd learned from our revision activities. 

Objects weren't placed in a scene for no reason. That bed warmer? Nice weapon for whacking a bad guy in the face. We saw examples of mirror characters, like the two incompetent English soldiers and their pirate counterparts; repetition, like everyone swooning whenever Johnny Depp appeared Jack always grabbing for his personal effects, and Elizabeth singing the pirate song--once as a young girl at the beginning of the movie, and years later on the beach with Jack; and reversals of dialogue: a couple times throughout the movie, someone calls Jack "The worst pirate I've ever seen." At the end, an officer says, "That's got to be the best pirate I've ever seen."

These are all things we don't usually notice when watching a movie, but they add to the character development and the storyline, so novel writers can learn a lot from the big screen. I'm sure I'll spot those literary devices in movies from now on. But I won't mention them out loud while in a movie theater, unless I want people beating me up with popcorn buckets.

So, if you ever get a chance to go to one of Darcy's workshops, go! 

But you might need to give me a ride.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Dude Talks Like a Lady

I know you writers--ideally you'd stay home all day without letting things like pesky day jobs get in the way of your creative genius, right? But think about what you know or what you've learned because of your day jobs. Anything that helps with your writing?

As a sign language interpreter, I'm in one of the rare jobs that allows me to work in completely different settings each day. Where else can you go from a doctor appointment to a business meeting to a college class to rehab all in the same week? The same day, even. I mean, unless you're a doctor who has a meeting and perhaps a graduate school class and a drinking problem. 

I'm not going to run home after an assignment and write any deaf clients into a novel (I promise), but having access to so many different places gives me a broad vocabulary and knowledge about what those settings look like. And it helps me catch dialogue in a manuscript that doesn't ring true, because I have to be aware of how deaf clients want me to sound when it's my voice delivering their message. I'm constantly thinking, "How would this person sound if he were saying this with his own voice instead of with his hands?"

A few days ago I saw this post on Tracy Marchini's blog about differences in male and female speech. Great information about writing realistic dialogue for male and female characters. When reading it I thought, "Hey, I forgot that I knew that!" The research she cited like A Cultural Approach to Interpersonal Communication: Essential Readings included information that I've picked up in interpreting workshops, so it's the kind of knowledge I've been using forever without consciously thinking about how it applies to my writing. 

To put it simply, when I'm interpreting for a man, I don't want to sound like a girl. I know, the others in the conversation or the audience hear a female voice, but I try to match my tone and word choice to the speaker. Maybe my own word for something that's great would be "awesome," but that would be a weird choice if I'm interpreting for a 90-year-old. If the speaker is a male, I try to avoid saying things in ways that are associated with female speech. We can do the same in our writing.

For example, women tend to use more "qualifiers" when speaking, like "kind of," "I think," "maybe," and "tend to," like I just used. So I watch for those when writing dialogue. In my own work-in-progress, a male character said something like this when asked about taking a year off from college:

"No, it wasn't really planned, but my dad lost his job, so it's been kinda hard. I came home to work and help them out a little before going back to school."

Okay, now quit being a girl. 

That's been revised to "I didn't plan to leave, but my dad lost his job."

Now, I shouldn't have to qualify this but I will. ('Cause I'm a girl? Maybe.) Of course no one is saying this is how all women talk or how all men talk. Communication styles vary from person to person and from setting to setting. We know women who speak very directly, without hesitations or qualifiers, and there are men who do say "kinda sorta." This is about patterns that researchers have found when studying how men and women communicate. Like all research, the results don't apply to everyone.

Alrighty then. Here are some other things that are common in female speech, so look for these when you revise your male characters' dialogue. (I'm also constantly editing these out of my emails before sending, because I know my sentences will sound stronger without them.)

  • Tag questions: ending sentences with phrases like "Isn't it?" or "Don't you think?" to elicit a response from others.
  • Intensifiers, like "so," "very," and "really." It might seem like "really" adds emphasis, but often it makes a statement weaker.
  • Hesitations: "Okay," and "Well," for example, within the sentence.
  • Questioning statements: Asking someone "Could you put that down?" instead of saying, "Put that down." 
  • Inclusive language, like "Let's" and "We should."

In addition to the article cited at the beginning of the post, I found more information in this fascinating article by Elizabeth F. Morgan, about what she discovered about her own use of "powerless language" when interpreting for a deaf businessman. Although it's meant as an article for interpreters, I think it's a great resource for writers, too. There's even a handy-dandy chart with examples of language that sounds masculine or feminine. 

One important point Tracy Marchini brought up in her post was that there's a difference in written dialogue and real-life speech. Women use more "encouraging speech" to keep the conversation going and affirm that they're listening, but you don't want to clutter up your written dialogue with utterances like "Mm-hmm," and "I see," even if we do that in real life; that would be boring for the reader.  

On another note, the research can explain some miscommunications between men and women. While men see a question as a request for information, women use questions as a way to keep the conversation going. Ever heard a woman complain about her husband or boyfriend telling her how to solve her problem, when she just wants to vent? 

Here's how a girlfriend might answer our question if we're complaining about a co-worker who has wronged us and deserves to perish in a rabid squirrel attack:

"How could she do that?"
"I know, seriously? I cannot believe her."

And here's how a guy answers the same question:

"How could she do that?"
"Here's what you should do..."

Yeah, that's annoying. But we've confused them by asking a question we don't expect them to answer with instructions.

I'd like to write more about day jobs, but since this post is getting long I'll save that for later. But tell us in the comments how your day job benefits you as a writer (besides the paycheck), and I'll include some of those in the next post. And tell us what you think about the male/female communication styles-- are there other things you've noticed that I didn't mention here, and what have you seen in your own work when writing dialogue?

I won't mind if you don't edit out your qualifiers in your comments, either. Really.

(Whether these differences are learned or inborn is a whole 'nother discussion, one I won't get into here. What do you think, loquacious baby?) 

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Voice, defined


The words you choose.

It’s tone.

It’s mood.

It’s the way you structure.

You just know it when you see it, when you hear it.

I’ve heard writers, agents, and editors all try to explain this elusive concept of voice in writing.

At the National Book Festival last Saturday, I had the privilege to hear a presentation by one of the world’s best-loved illustrators, Jerry Pinkney. He stood up to speak late in the afternoon, when the tired crowds had thinned, but die-hard fans remained. He talked about his childhood, and the hours he spent with a sketchbook in his hand.

And then he answered a young girl's question.

“Mr. Pinkney, how do you draw pictures, so that they look like yours and not someone else’s?”

He paused a minute, considering.

“What I think you are asking about is called style,” he said. “But style is not how I draw. Style is how I see the world.”

Surely Mr. Pinkney’s simple description tells us something important about every creative discipline, including that intangible idea of writer’s voice.

We practice and practice to master the writer’s craft, until it becomes a natural extension of who we are.

And if we are brave enough, we are finally able to say something of our own unique experience, something someone else is longing to hear.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Contest of Unspeakable Evil Update!

Remember you have till tomorrow night (before midnight central time) to comment on the Speak Loudly post for a chance to win your choice of Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson, Twenty Boy Summer by Sarah Ockler, or Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut. 

And, instead of picking one winner, we'll pick a winner for every ten people who comment. Thanks for all the comments so far, everyone!

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Bloggers Speak Out--and give away a bunch o' books!

For those of you who have been following the Springfield, Missouri book challenges and the subsequent overwhelming support (Twitter explosion, anyone?) for the authors, today's Springfield News-Leader printed some new articles about the controversy. 

Here's the newspaper's article, "Parents, Take The Opportunity to Discuss Issues Writers Raise," and editorials from authors Laurie Halse Anderson and Sarah Ockler

Bloggers Speak Out is a movement sparked by the article that got us all a bit riled up, "Filthy Books Demeaning to Republic Education," in which Dr. Wesley Scroggins advocated the censorship of books in schools, and specifically requested that the following books be removed from the Republic school system: Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson, Twenty Boy Summer by Sarah Ockler, and Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut.

I'm sure the response to the challenge was more widespread than anyone could have predicted. Those of us who love books get a little miffed when someone tries to take them away. So many writers and readers chose to speak out to show their support for these authors and fight against book banning and censorship. 

To make it easier to find all the contests, reviews, and articles, the awesome Natalie at Mindful Musings put together a list of bloggers doing giveaways and book reviews of the challenged books. (And here's Natalie's fabulous letter to the editor in the News-Leader!)

Remember you have till the 26th to enter our contest; comment on Sunday's post for a chance to win one of the three books mentioned in the article. 

Here's the giant list! Now go read and win some books!                                                                                         
Below is a list of links of bloggers speaking out against book banning and censorship--in the form of giveaways, posts, and reviews. Some are "officially" participating in what we're calling Bloggers Speak Out, and others are posts that we've found around the blogosphere. If you get time, you should definitely check them out!
Giveaways of Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson
**All giveaways will end on 10/3, unless otherwise noted**
Other Giveaways
**All giveaways will end on 10/3, unless otherwise noted**
Other Posts Against Book Banning and Censorship
Important Articles on the Subject
"Filthy Books Demeaning to Republic Education" (the article that started it all)
"Republic School Book Choices under Fire" (Springfield News-Leader)

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Speaking Loudly for SPEAK + Giveaway

Bad things happen everyday. Hiding books that deal with the tough issues won't make the problems go away; it just gives those who have experienced them one less place to go to feel like they're less alone. Books allow us a safe place to see people who survived the unspeakable.

If you're a writer and you've been online today, you've probably seen the outrage over Professor Wesley Scroggins' opinion piece in his Springield, Missouri newspaper about the "soft porn" high school students are exposed to in their English classrooms. He gave Laurie Halse Anderson's National Book Award-winning novel SPEAK as an example. 

In case you're unfamiliar with the book, here's a description from the jacket:

"Speak up for yourself - we want to know what you have to say." From the first moment of her freshman year at Merryweather High, Melinda knows that this is a big fat lie, part of the nonsense of high school. She is friendless, outcast, because she busted an end-of-summer party by calling the cops, so now nobody will talk to her, let alone listen to her. As time passes, she becomes increasingly isolated and practically stops talking altogether. Only her art class offers any solace, and it is through her work on an art project that she is finally able to face what really happened at that terrible party: she was raped by an upperclassman, a guy who still attends Merryweather and is still a threat to her. Her healing process has just begun when she has another violent encounter with him. But this time Melinda fights back, refuses to be silent, and thereby achieves a measure of vindication. In this powerful novel, an utterly believeable heroine with a bitterly ironic voice delivers a blow to the hypocritical world of high school. She speaks for many a disenfranchised teenager while demonstrating the importance of speaking up for oneself.

I won't ask how familiar our readers are with pornography, soft or otherwise, but I hope we'd all agree that rape isn't porn. I find it disturbing that Dr. Scroggins thinks it is.

On one hand it would be nice if everyone ignored Dr. Scroggins so he'd quietly go away without an audience, but then what? No one says anything, and any book he doesn't like will quietly go away too, removed from the library shelves--like Slaughterhouse Five--to avoid any unpleasantness. I don't want Dr. Scroggins deciding what goes in my library or anyone else's. The thought of bare shelves saddens me.

I'm going to venture a guess that Dr. Scroggins hasn't read the books he objects to so vehemently. Maybe he heard about them from someone else, or at best he flipped through them to find sentences he could hold up as offensive. It's hard to imagine how he thinks we're protecting high school students by removing this book. If students don't read about a girl who was assaulted at a party, I suppose that will prevent it from ever happening to them.

People have been posting about this all day, more eloquently than I ever could, so I knew that much of my post here would include "Here are some awesome people and what they said." Laurie Halse Anderson wrote her own response on her website. It's so inspiring to see the support for her in blog posts and the flood of responses on Twitter (tagged #SpeakLoudly) from writers and readers.  

Most inspiring of all, though, are the writers who wrote about their own abusive pasts, their own trauma, and said "This book helped me" or "I wish I had this book when I was a teen." I can't imagine how hard it was for them to write about their experiences, and I'm amazed they've found the strength to do it. Here are just a couple of them:

Author Cheryl Rainfield, who has survived things I can't even bear to think about.

Author C.J. Redwine, who says, "I'm a Christian too, and a rape survivor, and I want SPEAK on the shelves."

I think the most powerful message was from the student who commented on Dr. Scroggins' post to say, "As a middle school girl, I was raped by a family member. I feel strongly that I might have made an actual suicide attempt if it hadn't been for a teacher who saw me where other teachers just let me fade into the background. She was the one who gave me Speak. There were no other books about being a rape victim allowed for girls my age, and Speak (in tandem with my wonderful, wonderful teacher) allowed me to understand it wasn't my fault, I could be okay. Since then, I have participated in many groups, and have found out that my story, sadly, isn't uncommon. There are far too many girls out there like me to take away one of the few books out there that speaks directly to us, tells us it will be okay, tells us that we have the right to fight for ourselves. This book isn't pornographic; it is a rallying cry for abused, raped girls who don't what to do or how to live. I thank God for Laurie Halse Anderson, that she helped me and that her book stands to help so many others."

Laurie Halse Anderson has heard from thousands of kids like her about how SPEAK has impacted them. Here's her poem about those letters:

That's who we should be listening to. 
Want to win one of the books from Wesley Scroggins' article? Leave a comment and I'll pick a winner next Sunday. Winner gets a choice of Speak, Twenty Boy Summer, or Slaughterhouse Five.

Also visit Sarah Ockler's blog (author of Twenty Boy Summer) for a chance to win all three books, plus chocolate!