Giveaway: SATURDAYS WITH HITCHCOCK by Ellen Wittlinger!

511xSpTjNgLUpdate, 8.25.17: Congratulations, Daria! You’ve won the ARC of Saturdays with Hitchcock. Thanks to all who entered, and please do check it out when it hits the shelves in October!

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Hello, friends. As excited as I am about The Great Hibernation hitting the shelves next month, I am just as pumped about the slew of other fantastic middle-grade books that are coming readers’ way this fall.

And Saturdays with Hitchcock by Ellen Wittlinger (October 10, Charlesbridge) is at the top of my list. I was lucky enough to read an advance copy and I absolutely fell in love with it. You can read my review below, and I’m not kidding when I say that it’s probably my favorite MG read so far this year. I’m thrilled to have an advance copy to give away–I hope you’ll enter to win it!

Here’s a little more about the book:

Twelve-year-old movie-loving Maisie is in need of a distraction from her current romantic dilemma when her Uncle Walt comes to stay with her family after being hurt on the set of the movie he’s filming in Hollywood.

Maisie’s best friend, Cyrus, has been hanging out a lot with Gary Hackett, whose last-name sounds to Maisie like a cat barfing up a hairball. When it seems as if Hackett might like Maisie romantically, she’s none too pleased, and Cyrus is even less impressed.

Uncle Walt has a way of pointing Maisie in the right direction, and Maisie’s love of movies also keeps her centered. Heading to the local independent theater on Saturdays to see old movies helps Maisie stay grounded as she struggles with growing up, family tensions, a grandma who seems to be losing her memory, and a love triangle she never expected.

My own review on GoodReads:

Saturdays with HitchcockSaturdays with Hitchcock by Ellen Wittlinger

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

SATURDAYS WITH HITCHCOCK is probably my favorite MG read of 2017, and I’m kind of desperate for everyone else to check it out. Maisie is just the sort of heroine I adore–one with a strong, specific passion (in this case, movies); loyalty to her friends and family; and, most importantly, the ability to recognize when a bad first impression of someone merits reconsideration. On every page, I relished watching her interact with this book’s stellar and complex supporting cast as she worked her way through a variety of personal and family challenges.

All of which may make this book sound a little dry or serious, when really, it’s not. And I think that’s Ellen Wittlinger’s biggest accomplishment. There are plenty of books out there that deal with the types of issues that SATURDAYS WITH HITCHCOCK tackles–dementia, family money issues, burgeoning crushes, and questions about sexuality–but few that do it with such a light touch and in such a compulsively readable way. So many different types of readers would connect strongly with this story, and I’m really excited for it to find its way in the world.

Giveaway Alert!

I’m so inspired to get the word out about this one that I’m giving away my advance copy (ARC) to one lucky reader–just leave a comment on this post to be entered to win. You can also earn an extra entry by tweeting about the giveaway.

Here’s a sample tweet you can use:

Win an ARC of @EllenWittlinger’s brilliant MG novel SATURDAYS WITH HITCHCOCK (10.10.17, @charlesbridge): http://bit.ly/2ijSl1Q #giveaway

Let me know in your comment if you’ve tweeted so I can give you credit. This giveaway is USA only. I’ll announce a winner this Friday, August 25.

Good luck!

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Finding Themo

I’ve recently become a little anxious about theme.

First there was this thread on a writer’s forum I belong to in which people were discussing where in a novel you’re supposed to introduce the theme. I sort of skimmed through the posts and then slunk away without participating, because, to be honest, it wasn’t something I had really thought about before.

In fact, I wasn’t even completely sure I understood what a theme was. Luckily, there’s a Mary Kole post for that! Simply defined, a theme is a Big Idea or Big Question that your book strives to explore…and according to Mary, every book should have one.

So all of that was kind of gnawing at my brain already…and then this week my friend Lisa wrote a terrific post on her blog called “Personal Mission Statements in Life and Writing,” which got me thinking about the whole issue even more. And, frankly, feeling a little concerned. I certainly hadn’t tried to insert a theme into Gladys Gatsby; did that mean that the book didn’t have one? And could my struggles with certain elements of my new WIP have to do with the fact that I didn’t have a theme for it, either?

Catch this theme if you can.

Thankfully, my writers’ group had a meeting scheduled this week, so I asked my two critique partners for their wisdom on theme. Did they have a Big Idea to explore in mind from page 1 of the first draft, or was it something that emerged on its own later, as the story got underway? Perhaps not surprisingly, I got two totally different answers: one of my CPs feels that she needs to know her theme to get her excited about writing a book in the first place, while for the other, the theme just emerges naturally as she drafts her stories.

But then, that CP told us about an exercise she had heard about once at a conference: If you’re not sure what the theme is in your own writing, take a look at your favorite movies. What do they have in common? What kinds of stories do they tell? Chances are, they share a theme that’s important to you, and that’s probably showing up in your own work.

Almost got a theme!

So that night, I examined my DVD shelf…and what do you know, I started to see a pattern!  School of Rock. Catch Me if You Can. Almost Famous. All stories of characters who take on a huge, seemingly unachievable goal—one that the powers-that-be in their worlds would surely put the kibosh on if only they knew about the protagonist’s secret plans—and, against all odds, manage to achieve it. (With plenty of funny hijinks ensuing along the way, of course.)

Shabam. That’s pretty much EXACTLY how things go down for Gladys. Standing up against the naysaying powers that be to take a shot at greatness…turns out my book does have a theme after all!

Jack Black will school you…IN THEME.

That’s definitely NOT the theme of my current project, though. But I have a whole other set of favorite movies—that tend to have international settings and usually some sort of forbidden love element, like The English Patient and The Sound of Music—that may shed some light on what theme I’m exploring in my WIP. I’m not quite sure what that is yet, but I think that it has something to do with loyalty, national identity, and self-sacrifice? Maybe by the time I finish a first draft, it’ll be clearer to me. 😀

So my question to you, fellow writers: Do you think consciously about theme from the first moments of brainstorming a new story, or is it something that reveals itself to you much later on in the process? Also, if you decide to try the “Favorite Film Analysis for Theme Identification” (um, FFATI?) method, feel free to share what you discover in the comments section!