Thursday, August 27, 2015

Gennifer Choldenko Blog Post for Chasing Secrets

How do you name your characters?

I am a bit insane when it comes to naming my characters, because names are so important to me. A good name helps a reader sink into a character, but it also helps me understand on a deeper level who my character is.

Often I have to lock my ego in the bathroom when it’s time to name characters. My ego likes clever names. Original names. Names with showy rhymes, alliteration, or heavy-handed symbolism. Names befitting ponderous allegorical characters, Hollywood starlets, or Las Vegas showgirls. In short, names that try too hard. And while sometimes a clever and original name is exactly what brings a character to life, more often what is needed is a real name. A solid name. A name that sinks effortlessly into the landscape of my novel.

Some of my best names pop out of nowhere. A wealthy Nob Hill doctor in Chasing Secrets is named Dr. Roumalade. I have no clue where that name came from. And yet it is a perfect fit for a doctor with a round, balding head who only treats wealthy people with ample means to pay.

The main character in Chasing Secrets was originally called Fanny. I really liked the name Fanny and I didn’t want to give it up. But the longer I worked on the novel, the more I saw it wasn’t a good fit for the character I had created. And once I gave her the name Lizzie, she came to life in a way she never had before.

Sometimes naming makes me feel as if there are fifty dogs in the room. And only one of them is mine. I call the correct name and my dog will come trotting to me. There are days I stand in the room calling name after name, but no dog appears. Once I get the right name, it feels like my beloved German shepherd is rushing forward, bursting with enthusiasm to see me.

Since I write historical fiction, names must be historically correct. In 1900 girls were not named Jagger, Jayde, or Rocket, so the first order of business is to locate names in vogue during the year my character was born. There are a lot of naming sources on the Internet. The 500 most popular names in 1880 is one I used for Chasing Secrets. Sometimes I get names from old newspapers or—though this is ghoulish—from obituaries or walking in cemeteries and writing down the names on tombstones. Then I look at nationality. If my character is very Irish, then I need an Irish name. The name for the character Maggy Doyle in Chasing Secrets came from the memoir of a woman living in San Francisco in 1900. Maggy Doyle was her Irish maid’s name. Maggy Doyle is always Maggy Doyle and rarely just Maggy. Why? Some people’s first and last names are clustered tightly together, as if they are one name. You probably know people like that. I know I do.

Finding last names can be tricky, especially if there is more than one family member with that last name. In my view, J. K. Rowling is a master namer. Consider the name Weasley. The root word for Weasley is “weasel.” Yet that is not the character of the Weasley family. So why does it fit so well?

Another brilliant Rowling name is Draco Malfoy. But that name follows the exact opposite strategy. Draco. Latin for “dragon.” Malfoy. Latin word for evil: malum.

The best names often appear unexpectedly, like a flash flood. The name Aunt Hortense was like that. Her name popped onto the page and there she was.

For the novel I’m working on right now, I wrote down a bunch of historical names in my notebooks. None of them were all that interesting, but I wrote them anyway, just to get a feel for the kind of name that was common in that place and time. When I went back through the pages, my mind suddenly changed around the letters of one name to form another. And with that name as a handle, I was able to conjure up a new and unexpected character who is proving to be quite the scene stealer.

This is one of the absolute delights of the creative process. As crazy as naming can sometimes make me, there is nothing like the feeling of getting a character just right.
Think chocolate. Only better.

  Read my original review here.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

All We Have Is Now by Lisa Schroeder

Release Date: July 28, 2015
Publisher & ARC: Point/Scholastic
ISBN: 9780545802536
Ages: 12+

Just over twenty-four hours are left until an asteroid strikes North America, and for Emerson and everyone else who didn’t leave, the world will end. But Emerson’s world already ended when she ran away from home. Since then, she has lived on the streets, relying on her wits and on her friend Vince to help her find places to sleep and food to eat.

The city’s quieter now that most people are gone, and no one seems to know what to do as the end approaches. But then Emerson and Vince meet Carl, who tells them he has been granting people’s wishes—and gives them his wallet full of money. 

Suddenly, this last day seems full of possibility. Emerson and Vince can grant a lot of wishes in one last day—maybe even their own.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Chasing Secrets by Gennifer Choldenko

Release Date: August 4, 2015
Publisher & ARC: Wendy Lamb/Random House
ISBN: 9780385742535
Ages: 9-12

Newbery Honor–winning author Gennifer Choldenko deftly combines humor, tragedy, fascinating historical detail, and a medical mystery in this exuberant new novel.
   San Francisco, 1900. The Gilded Age. A fantastic time to be alive for lots of people . . . but not thirteen-year-old Lizzie Kennedy, stuck at Miss Barstow’s snobby school for girls. Lizzie’s secret passion is science, an unsuitable subject for finishing-school girls. Lizzie lives to go on house calls with her physician father. On those visits to his patients, she discovers a hidden dark side of the city—a side that’s full of secrets, rats, and rumors of the plague.
   The newspapers, her powerful uncle, and her beloved papa all deny that the plague has reached San Francisco. So why is the heart of the city under quarantine? Why are angry mobs trying to burn Chinatown to the ground? Why is Noah, the Chinese cook’s son, suddenly making Lizzie question everything she has known to be true? Ignoring the rules of race and class, Lizzie and Noah must put the pieces together in a heart-stopping race to save the people they love. Click read more for my review.

Monday, August 3, 2015

Monday Mentions: Zack Delacruz: Me and My Big Mouth by Jeff Anderson

Release Date: August 4, 2015
Publisher & ARC: Sterling Children's Books
ISBN: 9781454914990
Ages: 10+

Zack Delacruz is unnoticed at his middle school—and that’s just the way he likes it. But a school assembly, a typhoon of spit, and an uncharacteristic moment of bravery are all it takes to change everything. Suddenly Zack is in charge of the class fundraiser. Worse, his partner is the school’s biggest bully! If they don’t sell all the chocolate bars, there will be no dance for the sixth grade.  Zack never wanted to be a hero, but with his classmates’ hopes on the line, can he save the day? 

  • Trusted Author: Jeff Anderson has written several professional books, all of which I personally own, to help teachers teach grammar and writing. I’ve used both Mechanically Inclined and Everyday Editing with my tenth grade classes. There’s no author I trust more than one who has been or currently is a teacher.
  • Friendship: The book has several characters that you would see any day in any middle school. Certain students who are not “popular” get the raw end of the deal when it comes to a social life, but genuine friendship beats every tortuous day of middle school. Zack has a best friend named Marquis, and by the end of the book, he’s obtained a few unlikely friends.
  • Say “No” to Bullying: While the book does have a definite anti-bullying message,, Anderson doesn’t beat you over the head with it. Instead, readers watch as Janie and Zack are bullied constantly, and they have to earn (in a sense) the admiration of those who bully them. When Zack stands up for Janie, this is a defining moment for both bully and victim, and this sets Zack and the other characters on a new path--one they don’t want but appreciate later.
  • Janie and Jose: While Zack is the main character, my two favorite characters were Janie and Jose. Perhaps because I am a teacher and love the quirky kids, those with that extra bit of personality that can drive you crazy on a stressful day or make you laugh just when you need it. Also being a movie-lover, I loved Janie’s movie quotes, which she had for every situation. The anticipation for Janie’s quote by the other characters definitely made me chuckle. Jose, though an obnoxious bully at the beginning of the book, has his flaws but I can also see that those flaws probably stem from home problems. Perhaps he doesn’t get enough food at home or have the best clothes so he acts out. I see that kid every year.
  • Diversity: I especially appreciated a diverse cast of characters. While their races are hinted at through dialogue, dialect, and yearbook photos, each character has a unique personality that will easily represent a lot of different kids, which is a key for struggling readers. Maybe it takes a teacher to see this, as Kirkus Reviews, abhorrently called this book “forgettable.” I guarantee for many kids, this book is far from that.

Saturday, August 1, 2015

Finale Friday (The Best of the Week) The Enchanted Files: Diary of a Mad Brownie by Bruce Coville

Release Date: June 30, 2015
Publisher & ARC: Random House
ISBN: 9780385392471
Ages: 9+

Introducing The Enchanted Files! Told in diary entries and other “documents,” this magical, modern-day new comedy series by the master of funny fantasy, Bruce Coville is filled with laugh-out-loud humor and heart.
In the first hilarious Enchanted Files, Angus is a brownie. No, not the kind you eat! He’s a tiny magical creature that loves to do chores. Angus has just “inherited” a new human girl, Alex. To say that Alex is messy would be an understatement. She’s a total hurricane-like disaster—and she likes it that way, thankyouverymuch! Living with each other isn’t easy but Angus and Alex soon learn there is a curse that binds them. What’s worse, it threatens Alex’s family! Working together, Angus and Alex will set out to break the curse . . . without killing each other first . . . hopefully.

* "Smart, amusing, and a lot of fun" —Booklist (starred review)

"With magic, mischief, and mayhem to spare, this sweet story of an unlikely friendship ought to delight readers of any age." —Publishers Weekly"A knee-slapper." —Kirkus Reviews