Author Archives: Greg R. Fishbone

A New Year of Writing

In our household, yesterday and today mark the start of a whole new year! And whether you celebrate Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year’s) or not, there are lessons that can be applied by writers looking forward to improvement in the upcoming year of 5775

Here are my Rosh Hashanah writing tips…

Resolutions

Hopefully, you have already made progress on the resolutions you made back on January 1st (that other New Year’s). If not, take this opportunity to rededicate yourself in the fourth quarter of CY2014.

It’s not even October yet, so there’s still time to lose those 20 pounds, finish that manuscript, jog five miles a day, send out those query letters, floss regularly, register for a conference, stop smoking, and this time make it stick!

Or just pick one or two of the above and give it all you’ve got while there’s still some year left to work with. If you didn’t make a writing resolution this year, what about joining a community of blogging middle grade authors? (Hint, hint!)

Even if you’ve been sleepwalking through 2014, it’s not too late because you have…

The Shofar

The shofar is a symbol that you might have seen on Rosh Hashanah cards in the Hallmark Store. It’s a musical instrument from the days when the horn section played on actual horns–the bone-like projections from the head of a ram, removed, shaped, and polished to horny perfection.

The sound of the shofar was meant as a wake-up call, because those were also the days before digital alarm clocks. To begin your new writing year, you will also need a metaphorical wake-up call.

Pick a sound that represents your dreams for the next year. It might be your mobile phone ringing with “the call” from an agent. It might be the flipping pages of your next book. It might be the creak of a chair as a reader leans forward in anticipation of your next chapter.

Or maybe it really is the sound of a ram’s horn, if you also happen to moonlight as a shepherd.

Find a way to represent that sound, focus on it with all your attention, and resist the temptation to hit the snooze button.

Once you’re fully awake, it’s time for…

Tashlich

Some people follow a tradition called tashlich, in which all the sins and troubles of the past year are symbolically thrown away as breadcrumbs tossed into a river.

I like this tradition a lot. We all have habits we’d like to get rid of and mistakes we’d like to forget, but how often do we actually make a physical effort to dispose of them? And how great would it feel to watch these problems float away or become fish food?

Your writerly tashlich will be personal to you. Maybe you’ll throw away a handful of cliches. Toss out a double-handful of procrastination. Rid yourself of a slice of self-doubt. It will make you feel better–and when you feel better, you will write better.

At least that’s my theory for this year, and I’ve resolved to follow it.

And also…

Ask Forgiveness

According to another tradition, this is the time of year to ask forgiveness from anyone and everyone you may have slighted, offended, or harmed in the past year–intentionally or not, and knowingly or not.

I’ve made such requests and have had them result in a list of things I’ve done that I never even imagined as offensive or harmful, which is a humbling experience. Then I received forgiveness, which always has a cathartic effect.

But since we are writers, we can harm people who inhabit fictional worlds as well. Have you done your protagonist wrong? Have you neglected your manuscripts? Have you kept a promising idea in your head instead of setting it down on paper?

This holiday may be a great opportunity to review your work, ask forgiveness of your characters, and make a plan for setting things right.

When you’re done, it’s time for…

Apples and Honey

After all that introspection, you deserve a reward. So slice an apple, and dip it in honey. That’s the traditional way to symbolize the sweet year ahead.

And if one of your resolutions was to eat more fruits and vegetables, go ahead and make it a double serving!

Finally…

Be Inscribed in the Book of Life

The ancient rabbis believed that our future was predetermined one year at a time, subject to the influence of our thoughts, deeds, and prayers. It’s a blend of predestination and free choice that could give headaches to any philosophy major.

The best part of Rosh Hashanah, especially for us writers, is the idea of a metaphorical Book of Life. According to tradition, this is an actual annual book that lists everyone in the world and their entire upcoming year in great detail. Today, it’s been written, but we still have time to request edits, revisions, and changes–at least until the Yom Kippur publication date.

God is the Author of history, but each of us has the chance to do some light edits of our own personal stories, and that’s the most exciting collaboration of all.

L’Shanah tovah, and may you be inscribed in the Book of Life for a year of all good things!

Where Evil Lives

When I saw the infographic below, I knew I had to pass it along to the followers of Mixed Up Files. Movoto has created a visual comparison of “evil villain lairs” from popular culture that really got me thinking about the places in our books where villains can chill out, and where heroes might find themselves deep behind enemy lines.

Some of the lairs below are massive and imposing, but it’s not size alone that makes a great home for villainy. Malfoy Manor (shown below) is a great Gothic castle of infamy, but Lucius Malfoy was only ever a minion at best, and Draco was more of a bully with aspirations of minionhood. Meanwhile Lord Voldemort, the real villain of the Harry Potter series, lived for a while under another man’s turban, in the dreams of a young boy, in the pages of an old diary, and in a bunch of other random objects. Voldemort was terrifying precisely because he did not care where or how he had to live as long as he could find some way to prolong his life and plot his return to power.

Now look at Mordor and Isengard from Middle Earth. These are some tall, imposing structures! This creates an amazing contrast with our primary heroes, the Hobbits, who tend to be short, barefoot homebodies. The Baggins family Hobbit-hole is an inward-looking place of quiet introspection, while the Eye of Mordor is constantly looking outward in every direction. Coincidence? There are no coincidences in well-plotted fiction.

We also see this kind of contrast in the Jolly Roger from Peter Pan, which is the polar opposite of the lair of Peter Pan and the Lost Boys. The Jolly Roger is a mobile weapons platform built in a real shipyard and staffed by actual pirates, while the Lost Boys have an underground clubhouse they built themselves. The mismatch in lairs follows other mismatches in the story–Pan vs. Hook, boy vs. man, wooden swords vs. metal blades, youth vs. experience, fairness vs. cheating, playfulness vs. deadly revenge–all giving Hook and his crew every possible advantage. When the poor villain just can’t catch a break, we readers celebrate his defeat.

The villain’s impregnable lair can usually be infiltrated by a scarecrow, a cowardly lion, and a tin woodsman. Guards can be tricked or overcome. Sometimes the entire place can come crashing down at the hands of a seemingly outmatched hero.

The message for the villains is, enjoy your evil lair but don’t get too comfortable!

Villain Lairs

Villain Lairs

What are some of your favorite villain lairs from middle grade fiction? Put your suggestions in the comments below!

Diversity Baby Needs You

weneeddiversebooks

Diversity Baby was born on April 2nd, so she’s no April Fool.

Diversity Baby knows is curious about her world and all the people in it.

Diversity Baby comes from a family of readers.

Diversity Baby’s bookshelf has plenty of space for new books.

Diversity Baby needs to experience many viewpoints.

Diversity Baby needs to know that she can be a hero.

Diversity Baby needs to know that everyone can be a hero.

Diversity Baby was about one month old when the BEA’s annual BookCon announced its lineup of featured authors, all of the same race and gender, and the Internet exploded with calls for change.

Diversity Baby doesn’t know about Tumblr, Twitter, or trending hashtags, but she would have been proud of the effort that many thousands of people expended to bring more voices to the books she will grow up with.

Diversity Baby also didn’t attend the annual New England Society of Book Writers and Illustrators conference that happened during the weekend of the #weneeddiversebooks campaign.

Diversity Baby would have heard, from editors at the conference, that decades of effort have been slowly turning the tide in favor of diversity.

Diversity Baby would have heard anecdotal evidence that major booksellers are no longer rejecting books with minority characters featured prominently on the cover.

Diversity Baby would have heard that the marketing departments, the last holdouts at many major publishing houses, have finally come around.

Diversity Baby would have heard that diverse books are now being seen as a big plus within the industry, and that editors are searching for new and original voices.

Diversity Baby will be about two months old when BookCon happens, now including a new panel of diverse authors from the #weneeddiversebooks movement–including Grace Lin, Matt de la Peña and Jacqueline Woodson.

Diversity Baby needs diverse books.

Diversity Baby needs diverse voices.

Every baby is a Diversity Baby.

Greg R. Fishbone is the proud father of Diversity Baby and her big sister, Diversity Girl. Greg writes galactic fiction for young readers and has a new webcomic at http://gfishbone.com/septina