Tag Archives: MG

Making Up Magic Words

In the spirit of Joni’s recent post about inventing, I’d like to point out different approaches authors have taken to signifying magical happenings in their stories and talk about which way works best.

It’s pretty difficult to make up words without giving your reader the impression that the words are indeed made up (Maze Runner, anyone?) I think that’s why magic words that are pure invention come off sounding a little cheesy. Perhaps that’s why Rowling based some of her magic words on Latin. Accio is Latin for “I summon,” diffindo is Latin for “I divide,” and levicorpus combines the Latin for “light” and “body.” Of course, Rowling also uses words like alohomora (an unlocking spell), which sounds distinctly made up but is a rather playful combination of the Hawaiian words “aloha” and “mora” which may translate as “goodbye lock.”

Not all magic has to be based on Latin. The Theodosia Throckmorton books, about a girl who encounters curses in a London museum, use Egyptian magic. Words like heka and mut lend this magic an exotic but authentic feel. You can read more about the author’s (R. L. LaFevers) research into Egyptian magic at the Enchanted Inkpot.

There are a couple of ways to avoid use magic words at all. In the Septimus Heap books, magic spells are not directly spoken but alluded to. All magical objects and occurrences are capitalized and bolded as in “She Called a dolphin” and “Alice’s ghost Appeared.” My organization-obsessed brain loves this method, but it might leave some people wishing they knew exactly what transpired when the character Called the dolphin. Did she say a special word? Wave her arms? Pick up a phone? It’s been awhile since I read these books so maybe I’m just forgetting the finer details.

The Flora Segunda novels also avoid revealing exact magic words. Flora uses “Semiote Verbs,” words so powerful they induce magical happenings. But the author, Ysabeau Wilce, signifies these words with something resembling webdings–she puts a line of unpronounceable symbols in quotation marks. I think this is probably my favorite method of conveying a magical spell because it looks terribly magical. But a young reader can’t exactly reenact his favorite scenes without some serious imaginative work.

Which way of signifying magic do you think works best? Which authors have created your favorite magic words?

Parker Peevyhouse uses her cell phone to cast Lumos


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Middle Grade Trends in Speculative Fiction

Yesterday I discussed speculative trends for teen readers. (By the way, I forgot to mention some prime paranormal examples: the Dead Girl series by our own Linda Joy Singleton, the Ghost Huntress series by Marley Gibson, Dead Is the New Black by Marlene Perez, and ghostgirl by Tonya Hurley.)

So what about middle grade readers? Vampire romances and dystopian suspense haven’t trickled down to preteens, but paranormal is supposed to be on the rise with preteens. That should be good news for my Haunted series. But how new and strong is this trend, really?

Most of the current ghost series are targeted at teenagers, like the ones I mentioned above. It seems like most of the single title, middle grade ghost stories I pick up at the library are from the 80s and 90s.

Of course The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman is a recent bestseller. Peg Kehret has been writing suspense novels for years, mostly contemporary realistic stories involving robbers or kidnappers. She came out with The Ghost’s Grave in 2007

But let’s look back a bit…. Richard Peck’s series that began with The Ghost Belonged to Me started in 1975, and that title was re-released in 1997. Bruce Coville released The Ghost in the Third Row in 1987, and continued the trilogy with The Ghost Wore Gray in 1988 and The Ghost in the Big Brass Bed in 1991. Haunting at Home Plate by David Patneaude came out in 2000.

(Read my Amazon list mania “More spooky ghost books” for brief descriptions and links to all these books.)

Then, of course, there’s Goosebumps. According to Wikipedia, the Goosebumps umbrella featured 62 books published between 1992 and 1997. An average of 10 books per year from one author, and that doesn’t even count his Ghosts of Fear Street (a spinoff of Fear Street targeted at younger readers), which started in 1995. Now THAT’S a trend.

So when, exactly, did paranormal go away? Based on this very unofficial survey, it seems like the 90s were a prime paranormal time, though the trend may have dipped in the early to mid-2000s.

Maybe the lesson here is that some topics are eternal (just ask Dracula, who made his appearance in 1897). Or perhaps there’s a message about the futility of trying to write to trends. Or the inaccuracy of all this trend prediction, anyway (look at yesterday’s post about the supposed decline in fantasy). Or maybe the real point is, we just shouldn’t worry about it, and focus on reading and writing what we enjoy.

Chris Eboch with Haunted books

Chris Eboch needs to go investigate that strange noise in the basement now. Oh wait, she doesn’t have a basement. CREEPY!


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Right Now in Speculative Fiction

Teens love vampires! Er… books about vampires. Why not get them interested in the original fang-fest by pointing them toward Bram Stoker’s Dracula blogged in real time. It started May 3rd, so they only have to catch up a little bit.dracula

Seven Star Productions already has the first draft of a screenplay in the works for Carrie Ryan’s The Forest of Hands and Teeth, “a zombie thriller set in colonial times.” Read Ryan’s reaction to the news about film rights here. Warning: much use of the word “squee” involved.

Should libraries stock graphic novels? Do these books promote the love of learning, or do they take interest away from more challenging literature? Krista McKenzie weighs in on YALSA’s site.the dark planet

The Dark Planet, the final book in Patrick Carman’s Atherton trilogy, is out now! A mad scientist’s puzzling plan is finally revealed, and Edgar finds out the true purpose of “the mysterious satellite world of Atherton.” Haven’t read the other books in the series? You can enter to win the entire trilogy here.

Writers: think your book got the worst review ever? Wallow in your misery by posting the review on this blog and inviting readers to decide if it really is the Worst. Review. Ever. Actually, you might feel better after reading all the scathing reviews of other people’s books.twitter

Odds are, you recently joined Twitter. (Am I right??) If you don’t know who to follow, check out this list of 100+ Best Authors on Twitter–sixteen of whom write for young readers and thrity-four of whom write specualtive fiction. These authors, including Laurel Snyder and Anne Mazer, “carry on a conversation with their followers and present information they might find valuable.”

cheryliconParker Peevyhouse never thought Dracula would buy into the blogging craze.


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Everything I know about spec fic I learned from…

… Diana Wynne Jones.

Her fantasy novels are light and funny, with organic plots and plenty of surprises. Best of all, her storyworlds are interesting and her characters are lovable. The books of hers that I’ve learned the most from are:charmedlife

Charmed Life. I felt so bad for poor Cat Chance, who goes with his sister to live in a sorcerer’s castle and learn magic. Cat is constantly left to get himself out of trouble that his sister has put him in, and his good nature makes him completely endearing. I loved spending time in the castle and learning about the magic in Cat’s world–magic which is somehow unassuming and engrossing at the same time.

conradsfateConrad’s Fate. Conrad’s training as a new servant in a mansion is fascinating, partly because of the troubled family he serves, and partly because of the magical mishaps that keep occurring. Not only does Jones do a great job of making Conrad likeable, she also takes advantage of a limited POV to keep readers interested in Conrad’s mysterious and charming pal, Christopher, the sorcerer from Charmed Life.castle-in-the-air

Castle in the Air. Again, the main character of this book is somewhat put-upon and yet still kind and clever. He thinks he has it made when he acquires a magic carpet that flies him to a lovely princess, but he’s only gotten himself into a world of trouble. He has a very funny way of offering profuse compliments to everyone he meets, being a carpet salesman by trade, and this trait actually helps him out in some tight spots. Jones also finds a way to weave in characters from another of her books (Howl’s Moving Castle), which makes for some great surprises at the end of this story.

What I find myself trying to capture in my own writing is Jones’s way of letting her reader enjoy the magical settings she has created. I also admire the way she instills a sense of wonder through humor, plot twists, and magic. I find myself re-visiting her books again and again, something I hope my own future readers will do with my books!

cherylicon Parker Peevyhouse can’t get enough of the Miyasaki film based on Diana Wynne Jones’s Howl’s Moving Castle.


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The Four Plots of SF&F… As Found in Our Books

Discussing the four plots of science fiction and fantasy (as outlined by Orson Scott Card) got us thinking about some of our own books. We asked ourselves, which of these four main elements–milieu, idea, character, or event–dominates our recent novels?

lindaiconLinda Joy Singleton:deadgirl2

I suppose my DEAD GIRL series could be considered an Event story (my character having a near-death experience and then making a wrong turn into someone else’s body on her return.) But the actual story is more the growth of my character Amber as she goes into 3 different bodies, helping other people and learning about her herself as she evolves with confidence and insight into friendships.

cherylicon5Parker Peevyhouse:

LAST MIDNIGHT is either an Idea story or an Event story. It’s about a girl who comes to suspect that her family might no longer be able to perform their annual job of preventing the end of the world. Keen has a mystery to solve: why does the world seem to be ending despite her family’s efforts, and what can she do to stop disaster from striking? Her story is only complete when she solves the mystery and sets things right for the city of Roil.

Even though the main character of LAST MIDNIGHT spends some time searching through the city of Roil for the legendary black unicorn, and even though we get to visit a lot of landmarks along the way (Penny & Dreadful’s Candy Shop, Winding Stair School, the Fishtail Tavern, Mostly and Otherwise), this isn’t a Milieu story. And while Keen must grow out of her naivete and settle on what she believes about her family’s role in saving the city of Roil, the story’s main focus isn’t Character. The book is quite a puzzler, so I would probably call it an Idea story, but it also requires a specific action to set things right again, which makes it a bit of an Event story.

pjicon4P. J. Hoover:

THE EMERALD TABLET is about a brand new world (okay, two worlds, but we won’t actually get to Atlantis until Book 3). Sure, the world of Lemuria is cool and all, and there are lots of neat new inventions, places, and species. But the story doesn’t progress for the reader to get a look at the world. Thus, THE EMERALD TABLET is not a Milieu structured story.

THE EMERALD TABLET is somewhat of a mystery. There is, of course, a bad guy, and some mystery as to who Benjamin really is. Not to mention, some ancient relic has made Benjamin champion of the world. But the story doesn’t revolve around the discovery of this mystery. Thus, THE EMERALD TABLET is not an Idea structured story.emerald-tablet

THE EMERALD TABLET is rife full of characters who aren’t even human. Benjamin and his friends are telegens (think: really smart humans). Jack is a Nogical (think: little and green, but big on attitude). When Benjamin starts his journey he is not the same person as when he ends. There’s no way he possibly could be. He’s seen things, been through experiences, and made allies and enemies that have changed him. But the main focus of the story is not this change within Benjamin. Thus, THE EMERALD TABLET is not a Character structured story.

So where does that leave us? THE EMERALD TABLET has a quest. There is a search for three keys. There are journeys to new places, new challenges to face, new people to meet, new tests to take. There is action and adventure, not to mention a bunch of tween fun mixed in. The structure of the story follows the quest. Each stage leads to the next. One can’t be reached until the previous is finished. So if my vote counts for anything, I hereby declare THE EMERALD TABLET an Event structured story.

(THE EMERALD TABLET by PJ Hoover is the first of a trilogy: The Forgotten Worlds Books.)


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More Re-Imagined Covers

M. S. Corley has more amazing book covers on his blog. This time, he’s designed Phillip Pullman’s His Dark Materials series and Holly Black & Tony DiTerlizzi’s Spiderwick Chronicles to look like Penguin Classics.



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Adult Novels With Kid-Friendly Packaging

endersgameThe first time I saw this edition of Ender’s Game in a bookstore, I did a double take.  After all, the baby-faced hero on the cover accidentally kills another kid (and goes on to do worse) in the story. This is a pretty psychologically complex novel and it looks like it’s being marketed toward eight-year-olds.

I’m not saying kids shouldn’t read this book–it’s exactly the kind of thing I would have loved to read when I was in grade school. It just surprises me that a novel meant for adults would be given this kind of cheery makeover.

They say teens who like science fiction will often wander over to the adult section looking for books, but what is it about this particular genre that makes cross-over so easy? Is this a good thing?


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Scary-Good Marketing

goosebumpsWhen I was a pre-teen, I loved the twist-endings and strange happenings in R. L. Stine’s Goosebumps series. But Stine’s new Horrorland series is a marketing stroke of genius.

The series is based on the scary theme park from a book in Stine’s original Goosebumps series. Each book in the Horrorland series re-introduces characters from a Gossebumps book and sends them off to the Horrorland themepark. Scholastic is re-issuing the original books that tie into this new series, so they’re essentially doubling their money by selling new books that make kids want to buy the old ones. Genius


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