Vast Imaginations

A Community of Children's Writers. Learning. Growing. Creating.

Pattern Me A Book

There are some quick and easy patterns to use when writing children’s books. They can provide a jump start for getting your book going.  I’ve written a half dozen books for my grandson since he was born using photos I’ve taken of him and easy to follow patterns that provided a framework for the stories. ABCThe alphabet book idea was the structure for a story about a visit to our family cabin at a Manitoba lake.  I was able to come up with 26 different activities or experiences one for each letter of the alphabet. Use ‘words that start with….’ when you are stuck and don’t be afraid to be creative for example ‘x is for eXcited’ .

the-snowy-day1After my grandson had been on a wintery Christmas Day walk in Winnipeg’s Exchange District with our family I wrote a book for him using the same structure and pattern that Ezra Jack Keats did in his book The Snowy Day. It’s a favorite book of my grandson’s and I just replaced his experiences in the snow with the ones of the little boy in the book.  Pick one of your favorite children’s books and try to repeat the structure and pattern in a book of your own. 

i-know-an-old-lady-westcottI’m using the cumulative pattern to write my latest book about our grandson visiting us in Arizona. On each page I repeat the things I’ve written on the previous page and add one more. The poem The House That Jack Built and the children’s song I Know An Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly or the Christmas carol The Twelve Days of Christmas are good examples of the cumulative pattern.

beginnerbooks-logoThe popular I Can Read genre inspired another one of my photo books.  I thought of things my grandson could do and came up with twenty pages of I can…. sentences that at nearly three years old he’s beginning to read on his own.  Since my grandson is bilingual I wrote the sentences in both of the languages he speaks. 

just like my dad mellingInspired by books like Mercer Meyer’s Just Me and My Dad and David Melling’s Just Like My Dad I wrote a Just like…… book in which I compared things my own son has done with similar things my grandson has done. Two photos on each page-one of my son as a child and one of my grandson illustrated the similarities. 

Check out this website for other literary patterns that are easy to follow and provide a quick and simple framework to get started writing books for children. 

Other recent posts………

What Makes A Best Seller?

Writing My First Amazon Review

Launching Not One Book But Three

MaryLou Driedger is just beginning to write fiction and non-fiction for children after working as a teacher, newspaper columnist and free-lance journalist for thirty years. She also blogs at What Next?

Three ‘Build Your Platform’ Resources

In a previous post (Writer’s Platform?  Where to find yours), I offered this equation to sum up the components that go into a writer’s platform:  Writer’s Platform = W (writing) + V (visibility) + N (personal & professional networks)
I mentioned, too, that I was in the rudimentary stages of developing my N component.  With so many N possibilities out there – Facebook, Linked In, Twitter, Goodreads etc.- it can be a confusing and taxing process.  Which N is most important?  Where should you devote time and energy?  How do you integrate different components?
Fortunately, help is available. Here are three resources that I’ve used and would recommend to anyone who is striving to develop a cohesive writer’s platform with a strong N presence:
imageThe February 2015 issue of Writer’s Digest has a number of articles devoted to the topic of social networking.  Among the most helpful: Get in Good With Goodreads by Michael J. Sullivan (how to tap into the world’s largest online reader hub to grow your audience) and Your Author Website 101 by Jane Friedman (everything from buying a domain name to building an effective  website). Another very useful article – Success Stories in Self-Promotion by Jessica Strawser and Tiffany Luckey – profiles 7 authors who ran successful promotional campaigns that pushed their self-published books onto bestseller lists.  Methods vary proving that one-size does not fit all when it comes to networking, but clever ideas abound in this article and, best of all, they’re free for the taking.
downloadBlogging for Writers: How Authors & Writers Build Successful Blogs by Robin Houghton (Ilex, 2014 is a colorful, well designed, and easily navigated book.  Framed around the premise that blogging is a powerful marketing tool and a worthy addition to any writer’s platform, Houghton lays out the key elements for building a credible blogsite that will attract readers. Fortunately for technically challenged individuals like myself, Houghton strips away the jargon and shows step-by-step how to set up and use the free features of WordPress and Blogger as well as their paid-for options. Lots of vibrant, successful blogsites are given as examples.
download (1)Melding the components of a writer’s platform together is made easier with Carole Jelen and Michael McCallister’s Build Your Author Platform: A Literary Agent’s Guide to Growing Your Audience in 14 Steps (BenBella Books, 2014).  Although each chapter focuses on separate aspects – using Facebook, harnessing Twitter, fostering connections through LinkedIn, strengthening your exposure through blogs and so on – Jelen & McCallister tie the individual pieces together, giving readers a cohesive picture of how the parts support one another. For newbies like me, simple step-by-step instructions, lots of examples, and flurries of screenshots make what could be overwhelming, palatable and practical instead.
Other posts you might enjoy:
Goin’ on a Blog Tour – One Traveller’s View
Notes from the Launch Pad
Make It Snappy – Writing the Just Right Book Blurb
cover - early pdfLarry Verstraete (www.larryverstraete.com) is the author of 14 books for youngsters.  Missing in Paradise, a novel for middle grade readers, is his most recent release.

Writer’s Platform? Where to Find Yours

images (6)The term ‘writer’s platform’ has been floating about for years.  Every writer needs one, we are told. You’ll never get published otherwise. And even if you have been published, it’s critical to future success. No matter how good a writer you are, you’re dead in the water without a solid platform.
Yes and no. But more about that later.
There’s no doubt that agents and publishers are attracted to someone with a strong writer’s platform, but first, what is the meaning of the phrase?  There are numerous definitions.  In mathematical terms (did I mention I have a chemistry background?), here’s my own:
Writer’s platform = W (your writing) + V (your visibility as a writer) + N (the personal and professional networks you cultivate)
A writer’s platform represents your viability, your worth on the writer’s stock market if you will.  When purchasing a commodity (the writing you produce), agents and publishers (business people, essentially) assess the value of your current work and pit the quality of your writing against potential net returns it offers in the future.  Proving that you have the ability to reach your target audience and that you have visible, vibrant connections to those who will purchase what you write makes you – and your product if it is excellent and timely – attractive to agents and publishers who might front your project.
Creating a solid writer’s platform takes energy and time. There is no one size fits all, no one right approach, and no quick and easy method.  For illustration purposes and because I can’t speak for anyone but myself, I’ll use my own situation as an example of how these components work together.

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W – Writing
Your current piece of writing – the one you are marketing – is the most important element here.  If it is shabby, ill-conceived, or heaven forbid in the case of non-fiction, inaccurate, then the rest of your platform matters little.  But also important in the W department is the legacy you carry. Because I frequently write non-fiction for kids – much of it from a pool of science, history and true adventure – it helps that I have a science degree, was once a teacher who worked with youngsters the same age as my target audience, and have a list of credible titles under my belt. While these details might not be important for say poets or romance writers, they add authority to my non-fiction, making the W part of the equation more attractive.
V – Visibility
What is your impact as a writer?  Can you give proof of your engagement?  For my V, it helps that I belong to several professional writer’s associations and groups, and that a number of these are specific to my youth genre.  Also a plus, I’ve maintained contacts in schools and libraries, participated in book tour circuits, presented at conferences, festivals and in schools, judged writing contests and so on. These are V components – visibility factors.  Again, these will be different for writers of other genres.
N – Networking
I have a personal website. I write this blog, too. These are evidence of a wider reach – the N or networking component of my writer’s platform.  Some of the elements in my V list could also count here – participating in writer’s groups, for example.  I’m slowly incorporating other N elements that many say are important to a writer’s platform – Facebook, Linked In, Goodreads, Pinterest – the list is long and getting longer.

images (1)

Based on my own experience, it’s easy to get sidetracked in the N department.  When I find time slipping through my fingers as I peruse Facebook, tone up my Goodreads bio, or pin images to my boards, I try to remind myself of their place in the scheme of things.  No amount of networking (or even visibility) matters if the writing I do falls flat.
According to Jane Friedman, a prominent blogger and the CEO and Co-founder of Open Road Integrated Media, building a solid writer’s platform is a career-long endeavor. In her opinion, much of the emphasis to jumpstart the process early is overblown:
If you’re a totally new, unpublished writer who is focused on fiction, memoir, poetry, or any type of narrative-driven work, forget you ever heard the word platform. I think it’s causing more damage than good. It’s causing writers to do things that they dislike (even hate), and that are unnatural for them at an early stage of their careers. They’re confused, for good reason, and platform building grows into a raging distraction from the work at hand—the writing!  (2013 post, Writer Unboxed)

Other posts you might enjoy:

Your Mission? Write a Statement
Dancing Between Censorship and Free Expression
Stepping into Nothing… Hoping for Something
Larry Verstraete (www.larryverstraete.com) is the author of 14 books for youngsters.  Missing in Paradise, a novel for middle grade readers, is his most recent release.

What Makes A Best Seller?

Originally posted on What Next?:

Orphan-Train-Cropped1I just read Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline. Published in 2013 the paperback version now sits at number four on the New York Times best seller list. Its success is a surprise to its author. This is her fifth book and her other novels have rarely sold more than 10,000 copies. She never expected to sell over a million copies of Orphan Train. Why has this novel done so well? I can think of three reasons. 

orphan-train1. The novel informs people about a piece of little known American history. At the turn of the century thousands of orphans from eastern cities were sent on trains to the mid-west to be adopted by families.  Some would enter kind and loving homes while others would become nothing more than indentured servants or worse the victims of abuse and neglect.  There have been hundreds of books written about historical events like…

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Diving into My First Tweet Chat: Tips for Newbies Like Me

tweetchatI just engaged in my first Twitter Chat. I’m usually a little behind the times. I don’t like to jump into anything. Instead, I prefer to stand back and watch for a while. So when it came to joining in on a tweet chat, I creeped a few first. There were times when I considered jumping in, but I held back.

To be honest, I found it a little daunting–all these people I didn’t know, multiple conversations flying through my feed at light speed. It felt a little like junior high and I’m the new kid. There’s this group of kids gathered around a bank of locker, laughing and talking. Do I just go poke my head in and say, “Hey guys, I can laugh and talk too. Here’s what I think!”

The other feeling I had can be compared to jump rope. I never could do double dutch. I never could get the timing down. So here I am, watching a tweet chat and topics are flying and I want to jump in, but then someone adds another topic just as I’m thinking through my response to the previous one. The pressure to come up with something on the fly also held me back. I’m the kind of person who likes to really think things through before I talk or type.

But, I decided it was time. No more creeping! Pull up your big girl pants and jump in there, even if that means getting all tangled in the ropes. I happened upon #k8chat last Thursday, hosted by Kate Tilton (@k8tilton). A group of writers, readers and bloggers were discussing book reviews. This was right up my alley as I’m just receiving my first reviews of Enslavement and I’m set to begin my blog tour on February 2. As I watched the conversation, the tweeters all seemed like a nice and open bunch, so I dove in.tweet chat screenshot

Here’s how it works: a moderator posts questions or topics with the chat hashtag and everyone responds. Simple as that.

Now for the tips.

  1. Search out a topic you’re interested or knowledgeable in. How? Here’s an article from Buffer.
  2. Always use the chat hashtag, otherwise your tweet won’t show up in the chat feed.
  3. Stay on topic. Think of it as a conversation with friends. If everyone’s talking about a movie they just saw, you don’t jump in and shout, “My book’s on for .99 this week. Buy it while it’s hot.” No. No. No. This is a place to make connections, not sell your stuff.
  4. Be kind. This is my rule for everything. You can disagree with others, but do it kindly. Remember, you’re making connections, not enemies.
  5. Know the etiquette. Check out: 10 Twitter Chat Etiquette Lessons.

Yes, it was a little overwhelming tracking all the conversations, but it was also fun. I connected with some new people and heard some new perspectives. I learned that some are super quick with responses, while some, like me, are not and that’s okay.

I plan to stop by #k8chat again. It conflicts every other week with my writers’ group, but I plan on being there on Thursday, February 5. For more about this chat, check out katetilton.com. Maybe I’ll see you there.

Have you participated in a Tweet Chat? Do you have any advice for or readers? Or how about a great chat to join?

 

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Enslavement (One Bright Future #1)Melinda Friesen writes novels for MG, YA and NA readers. Her first YA dystopian/sci-fi novel, Enslavement, has been met with fantastic reviews. Find it on Amazon. She is currently editing the sequel to Enslavement and querying her MG adventure fantasy, Snodgaard and the Mustache of Power. She lives in Winnipeg, MB Canada with her husband and four children.

I Love to Read Month: Celebrating Books and Writers

I-love-to-read-buttonIn Manitoba, where I live, February is “I Love to Read” month.  It’s a time when books are celebrated in schools, libraries and homes, when the benefits of reading are touted, and when readers of all ages are encouraged to hunker down with a good book during one of our coldest months.  Other regions around the globe offer their own versions of “I Love to Read” from British Columbia’s “D.E.A.R.”  (Drop Everything and Read) in April to the United States’ “Get Caught Reading” in May.  Whatever the name or month, the focus is the same – celebrating books and acknowledging the power they have to transform us.
Writers should celebrate, too.  We craft words and create the worlds that readers inhabit, and so “I Love to Read” and its close cousins are very much a tribute to those who write.  But since reading is the focus, perhaps it’s also a good time to reflect on our roots.  How and why did we become writers?  Did books influence our choices?  Does reading still influence us today?
In my case, books and reading played a huge role in shaping the writer I am now. Although I cannot recall being read to by my parents or siblings, I remember the first time a book totally transported me to another time and place. I was in grade 4.  The teacher – wise in the ways of keeping a restless group of children attentive – read a mystery novel to the class. I don’t recall the title or the author, but I remember the plot – a thrilling whodunit about a boy detective who solved a kidnap-murder case.  I hung on to every word and groaned with the rest of the class when the teacher closed the book at the end of each chapter.  Because of that experience, I became a voracious reader and the seeds of storytelling magic took root.
Read Aloud DailyWhen I became a middle grade teacher – then later a parent – I followed my grade 4 teacher’s lead. I read to my students and my own children daily. From a literacy-development point of view, I knew it was the correct thing to do.  Numerous research studies espouse the benefits of reading aloud to youngsters, even to those of high school age, but – I can admit it now – boosting reading comprehension was never my primary motive. I simply wanted for my students and children, the same experience I had myself in grade 4 – the glorious out-of-body feeling of being one with a community of others, all lost together in a gripping story that defies time and place.
I read aloud from a diverse menu. The Giver by Lois Lowry for its perspectives on society gone astray…Jesper by Carol Matas for its portrayal of moral dilemmas in wartime Europe… Where the Red Fern Grows by Wilson Rawls, for a heart-searing Southern story about a boy and his two dogs, Old Dan and Little Ann…Silverwing by Kenneth Oppel so we could follow Shade, a silverwing bat, on his epic journey towards maturity.
Best Christmas pageant everNot every offering was a heavyweight.  Each year, with the approach of the holiday season, I carved time out of the busy day to read The Best Christmas Pageant Ever by Barbara Robinson– a lighthearted account of sheep and shepherds running amuck at the annual community production.  As one, we chuckled as disaster unfolded then high-fived one another later when it was averted.
Books have always played an important role in my life.  I wouldn’t be the person I am today without them.  But what about you?  What books transformed you?  How?  Why? I’d really like to know.
Other posts you might enjoy:
The Kid Inside
Say What, Mary Poppins?  Wise Words for the New Year
Making a Difference for Writers on a Shoestring Budget
Larry Verstraete (www.larryverstraete.com) is the author of 14 books for youngsters, the most recent being Missing in Paradise, his first middle grade novel. Currently he is searching for the next great idea.

Writing an Amazon Review

a-amazon-reviewI wrote my first Amazon book review recently.  I’m wondering if formulating reviews might not be an excellent way to keep track of the middle grade and young adult novels I’ve been reading in my attempt to try to learn as much as I can about the craft of writing for the middle years and teen age group.  Compiling a review forces me to summarize succinctly what I’ve learned from reading the novel.

Preliminary coverThe first review I wrote was for Melinda Friesen’s young adult novel Enslavement.  I was impressed with the way she didn’t make it easy for us to pigeon-hole her characters.  Even the antagonists exhibited some good qualities and the protagonists had a number of characteristics that weren’t ideal. I want to try to include characters that aren’t easily labeled as good or evil in my own writing.

eyes open on bookFriesen also does a great job of throwing us headlong into the drama of the novel from her opening paragraph.  She reminds us how important it is for a writer to engage readers right from the first page.

AA033743Enslavement raises some great questions which would make for excellent discussion starters with teens.  Although I know a good writer shouldn’t ‘hit readers over the head’ with moral platitudes and life lessons I want my writing to provide my readers with challenging questions to think about.

series of books for teensFinally I think the novel would be a good fit for use in high school classes and it is meant to the be the first in a series.  Looking realistically at the market for middle grade and teen novels any aspiring writer realizes that if they want to make any kind of profit they will need to sell their book to school libraries. If their novel is a hit they will also benefit financially from writing their book in a way that makes sequels possible.

I tried to summarize all the writing lessons I got from Enslavement in my Amazon review.  Check it out for yourself to see how you think I did.

Other posts…….

Art Tours Inspired by Books

A Flood of Books

Have You Met Mark Twain

MaryLou Driedger is just beginning to write fiction and non-fiction for children after working as a teacher, newspaper columnist and free-lance journalist for thirty years. She also blogs at What Next?

 

The Five Commandments of Manuscript Submission

Manuscript Submission Five Commandments (2)So you’ve finished that manuscript. You’ve popped the champagne and celebrated, and now you’re ready to move on to the next step–publication.

I’ve said this before on Vast Imaginations, and I’ll say it again. Writing is an Art; Publishing is a business. So here’s some tips for making your art shine in the business world.

1. Thou Shalt Put on Thy Business Hat. Submitting isn’t the time for touchy feely with your agents and editors of choice. It’s time to show you’re more than just a hobbyist , that you’re a professional. You need a top notch query letter that sells your story and you as a writer, and a gripping synopsis (you might even need a couple as submission requirements differ between companies. See Commandment #4). No pink stationary. No loopy fonts. No GIFs. You wouldn’t do that on a professional curriculum vitae, would you?

2. Thou Shalt Not Submit Thy First Draft or Thy Second Draft. Some people are under the impression that you vomit your story into a Word document and send that steaming bag to a publisher or agent and the editor will take care of editing it. Wrong. This is not how it works. You want your manuscript to be as close to publishable quality as you can possibly get it. When I first started querying Enslavement, I sent out my fifth draft. After rejection after rejection, I realized the manuscript wasn’t ready. I spent the next four years on roughly 20 more drafts. It’s now published–after I bled for it.

3. Thou Shalt Do Thy Research. This covers several areas. First, You need to know your manuscript inside and out, and it is up to you to determine what its target age group is and what genre it falls under. People, we have Google. These answers are easy to come by. When you submit, you need to make it easy for the editor/agent to determine your novel’s classification. And no, it doesn’t appeal to everyone. If you don’t have a target audience, your manuscript is not ready for submission.

Second, there are hosts of people out there ready to take advantage of new writers with promises of money, publication, and fame. Do your research. Editors and Predators is great site for doing a background check on agents and editors. Use it. And as with everything else in life–if it seems too good to be true, it probably is.

Third, agents/editors represent/work with specific literary areas. You need to do your research and only submit to those professionals that represent your type of work. This is where knowing how to classify your novel comes in. It is a waste of your time and theirs, to submit high fantasy to someone who does not accept genre fiction. They will not say, “Oh, wow, this one is so good that I’ll make an exception.” Not going to happen.

4. Thou Shalt Read the Submission Guidelines. This seems simple, but it’s often missed. Submission packages are not one-size-fits-all. Each agent and publisher will have their own set of guidelines, ignoring them will result in a rejection. Why? If you can’t follow simple guidelines, why would they want to work with you on something as complex as a novel? Read them. Follow them. No matter how weird they sound.

5. Thou Shalt Query Widely. This is a tough business. It’s not if you get rejection, it’s when. Be prepared because they will flow in like water through a ruptured damn. The key is to keep going. Every editor/agent has different tastes, different contacts, different holes in their lists. What one hates, another may love. It’s highly subjective, so keep going until you find someone who loves your work.

By following these commandments you give your manuscript the best possible chance of acceptance.

Do you have your own set of submission commandments? If so post them in the comments to help other writers. Have a question? Post them. This is a safe place to ask and get some answers before you wade into the deep waters of publishing.

For more about the submission process see:

Top Six Reasons Why Giving Birth is More Fun Than Querying my Novel

My Submission Sabatical

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Enslavement (One Bright Future #1)Melinda Friesen writes novels for MG, YA and NA readers. Her first YA dystopian/sci-fi novel, Enslavement, has been met with fantastic reviews. Find it on Amazon. She is currently editing the sequel to Enslavement and querying her MG adventure fantasy, Snodgaard and the Mustache of Power.

Goin’ On a Blog Tour – One Traveller’s View

untitledI’m midway through my first ever blog tour. Two months ago I didn’t have a clue what a blog tour was.  Others reading this might not either, so in the interest of full disclosure let me explain.
Imagine you are going on a long road trip.  To prepare, you map out your route, plot your stops, book hotels, and pack your bags.  You load everything into the car, fuel up, gun the engine and you’re off.
A blog tour is similar, but different.  You have a route (a schedule, actually), but the stops are other people’s blog sites. Instead of a car, you travel by computer.  Rather than race along a highway, you hitch up to the Internet and travel along a virtual one where you stop at prearranged blog sites to answer questions, write guest blogs, check reviews of your book and interact with readers.
In other words, a blog tour is like a traditional book tour sans the physical demands and expense of trekking from one location to another. The purpose is the same, though – to expose the book to a wider audience and generate some marketing buzz.rebelight
My blog tour is for Missing in Paradise, a novel for middle grade readers.  Although many authors arrange their own blog tours, fortunately for me much of the grunt work for mine was done by others. Melinda Friesen, Marketing Director for my publisher, Rebelight Publishing Inc., initiated the blog tour, created a package of giveaway books to attract readers, and commissioned Chapter-by-Chapter, a blog tour firm, to coordinate it. Chapter-by-Chapter put out the word to bloggers. More than a dozen responded, each willing to give time and space on their sites to highlight the book and its author. The end result – a two week blog tour, Jan 5-19, with 15 blog stops.
Right now I have one week under my belt.  What’s it been like?  One word descriptors leap to the forefront. Interesting. Exciting. Challenging. Fun.
One of my favourite moments so far came at the start of the tour with an intriguing question asked by We Do Write blogspot:  What is the weirdest thing you’ve ever googled? Right away, I knew the answer: How to photocopy one’s butt.  Not that I’ve ever done this, but the lead characters in Missing in Paradise toy with the idea so for authenticity, I just had do the research, right?  For those with inquiring minds, the information can be found on the Internet, proving that, yes, you can google almost anything.

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If you are considering a blog tour, here are a few tips based on my experience so far:
  • Having a publicist and a firm like Chapter-by-Chapter is a real timesaver, but you can set up your own blog tour. Start early – 3 or more months ahead. Research blogs and note ones that have a wide readership and spotlight your genre – youth fiction in my case. Create a list of top blog spots, contact the bloggers, pitch your book, mention your target dates, ask if they’d like to be included and what they’d like from you – a guest blog, Q & A, excerpt for their blogsite etc. Some may want to review the book and you will need to provide a copy in that case.
  • Come up with a tour giveaway as an incentive for people to follow the tour. For my blog tour, Rebelight sponsored a draw of free print and digital copies of the book, and set Jan. 31 as the deadline for entries.
  • As much as possible, prepare ahead. Weeks in advance of my blog tour, a number of blog hosts sent Q & A’s or topics they wanted me to address so I had time to prepare responses. This freed up time during the blog tour for me to respond and interact..
  • Publicize the event on your website, Facebook, Twitter or other social media platforms. Let people know what you are doing and what giveways are being offered. During the tour post updates and notify readers about upcoming stops.
  • Dish out thanks to blog hosts, organizers and anyone connected with the tour. These people extend a courtesy so reciprocate. whenever you can. Liking or following their blogs is another way to say thank you. It expands their reach as well as your ow
My tour continues for another week. If you wish to tap into upcoming or previous stops, you can find my schedule on Chapter by Chapter’s site. Don’t forget to enter the Giveway and like or follow blogs that resonate with you.

MiP-Banner

Thank you everyone!
Other posts you might enjoy:
Dos and Don’ts of Book Cover Design
Fact Stranger Than Fiction?  Maybe
Say What, Mary Poppins?  Wise Words for the New Year

Larry Verstraete (www.larryverstraete.com) is the author of 14 books for youngsters, the most recent being Missing in Paradise, his first middle grade novel. Currently in a lull period, he is searching for the next great idea.

Making the Jump From Non-Fiction to Fiction

Winnipeg writer Larry Verstraete is an award-winning author of non-fiction for children. Although his new book Missing in Paradise is fiction, it is easy to see how his non-fiction background influenced the narrative. Did you know that in the 1940s there were German prisoner of war camps in Canada? I found that fascinating and it’s only one of the links to historical events that Verstraete uses to engage us in his story about a fourteen year old Winnipeg boy named Nate who is determined to untangle a mystery his grandfather leaves unsolved when he dies suddenly.

s is for scientists by larry verstraeteVerstraete has written books about science and that expertise also finds its way into his new book as Nate’s buddy Simon, a bit of a mechanical and technological whiz gets an old photocopier up and running and assembles a metal detector from all kinds of interesting bits and pieces of things he’s collected.

life or death by larry verstraeteVerstraete latest non-fiction book was a collection of survival stories and you can see that theme in Missing in Paradise too as Nate and Simon escape a bear attack and we learn that Nate’s great grandfather was the survivor of a plane crash.

I’ve been on a bit of a quest to discover the magic formula for writing a successful middle grade or teen novel and I’ve come up with a list of characteristics I’ve found in best-selling ones.

I’ve discovered the heroes often have issues with their parents and grandparents play an important role in their lives. In Missing in Paradise the main character Nate has a strict father with high expectations for his son. Nate’s grandfather was a very special man in Nate’s life and seems to be communicating with his grandson from beyond the grave.

Many successful middle grade or teen novels feature bathroom humor and their protagonists use courage and intelligence to solve their own problems. In Verstraete’s novel the boys use the nickname ‘Farter’ for a crotchety neighbor and photocopy their bare butts for fun. But Nate and Simon also tackle a mystery that has stumped adults and they have the courage to take great risks to solve it.

cover - early pdfI’ve learned that best-selling middle grade or teen fiction books frequently have a visual element and the male protagonist usually has an unorthodox sidekick. In Missing in Paradise the visual clues on the front cover of the book become graphic symbols for appropriate chapters of the book.

Simon, Nate’s sidekick is certainly one of a kind. Here’s Larry Verstraete’s description of him. “Simon looked like a lost orphan child. Tuffs of hair stuck out like propeller blades around his head. A smear of jam ringed his mouth. His three-sizes- too -big T-shirt flapped like a tent around his skinny chest.”

Larry Verstraete

Larry Verstraete

As I went through the list of qualities I’ve discovered in most successful middle grade or teen novels I could find nearly all of them in Missing in Paradise. It appears award-winning non-fiction writer Verstraete has nailed it when comes to writing a winning fiction book.

Are you a non-fiction writer thinking you’d like to make the jump to fiction? Read Missing in Paradise and see how Larry Verstraete did just that!

Other posts about Larry Verstraete……..

Launching Not One But Three New Books

Larry’s Party

Do and Don’ts of Book Cover Design

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