Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Book Review #11: Mousenet

This month's book review is a very interesting animal fantasy called, Mousenet by Prudence Breitrose.  I happened to spy it while walking through my library, and the cover won me over at first sight!  Here's the summary blurb of the book:

When ten-year-old Megan helps her uncle invent the Thumbtop, the world’s smallest computer, mice are overjoyed, and they want one for every mouse hole.

The Big Cheese, leader of the Mouse Nation, has orders: follow that girl—even if it means high-tailing it to Megan’s new home on the other side of the country. While Megan struggles as the new girl, the mice wait for their chance. But when they tell Megan the biggest secret in the history of the world—mice have evolved, and they need her help—she isn’t sure anyone will believe her. With all of Mouse Nation behind her, Megan could become the most powerful girl alive, but just how will she create a Thumptop for every mouse?

This is a very adorable and unique read.  If you haven't guessed by now, I'm a sucker for rodent books, especially ones with cute little mice!  Breitrose's mice are different, though, in the fact that they live in an educated society and have evolved to be tiny geniuses.  I enjoyed this story from start to finish, but what really stood out were Breitrose's rodent culture and the way her mice communicate throughout the tale.

I've noticed that animal cultures have recently been a common topic in my animal fantasy book reviews.  They're just so important, though, in bringing the fantasy world to life and making readers connect to the characters.  Breitrose's mice are tidy, clean, and careful, taking great measures not to be noticed and not to make people say, "Eeek!"  Dubbed as the "modern mouse," they travel by Greyhound bus and take along plastic baggies for their poop.  But that's not all.  As part of the Mouse Nation, they also grow up with a thorough education, including a sound foundation in useful topics like "Human Expressions."  After studying computer programming in Silicon Valley, they even have their own online community with websites such as Whiskerpedia and MouseBook.  Each part of the mouse culture Breitrose creates is so fascinating and cute, and it makes you wonder if mice really do check their email when we're not around!

The mouse communication goes hand-in-hand (er, I mean paw-in-paw) with the culture.  In most animal fantasies, the animals just speak verbally like humans.  This is not always the case in Mousenet.  There are a few mice who speak like Talking Mouse 3 (aka TM3 or Trey), but most of them "talk" via sign language.  Then how the heck do readers understand them, you may ask?  Well, the narrator translates many of their actions, whether it be a curved tail in the shape of a question mark, or a paw held to the mouth for "LOL."  The few talking mice also translate for the non-speaking ones, usually with funny commentary.  If this sounds like a recipe for clunky or difficult dialogue, it's really not, and adds an extra bit of fun to the story.  Additionally, the mice type, so a lot of their communication is relayed in email form.  (And it's so adorable how they type as a team on big-people computers!)  If you're interested in finding alternative ways to get your animal characters talking, you should definitely see how Breitrose accomplishes this feat!

All in all, Mousenet is a fun, whimsical read.  And to top it all off, there are charming illustrations, too!  If you like animal fantasies of the fuzzy rodent variety, then you won't be disappointed with this book.  And if you write animal fantasy stories, then Mousenet certainly has a lot of elements to study.  By the time you're done reading, I bet you'll wish mice had their own tiny laptops, too!

You can read more about Breitrose and her mice at: www.mousenet.org.  And if you read this book, do let me know.  I'd love to hear what you think!

Can't wait to read the sequel when it comes out in 2013!  Happy reading!

Note: The summary blurb is from barnesandnoble.com.  The jacket illustration is (c) Stephanie Yue.     

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

COSCBWI July 2012: Adding M.I.C.E. To Your Story

This month's COSCBWI meeting featured our former Regional Advisor, Susan Bradley.  Susan is a writer and currently in an MFA program.  She shared a wonderful exercise from her program with the group called "Adding M.I.C.E. to Your Story."

Now, if you write Animal Fantasy books like me, then you might actually add mice with whiskers and tails to your story.  In this case, though, M.I.C.E. stand for Milieu, Idea, Character and Event.  Susan first broke down each category for us.  Essentially, these elements can be summarized as:

Milieu: The world where the story takes place.  It starts when you enter the space, and ends when you exit.  It can also be both physical and emotional.  (Fantasy stories are Milieu heavy.)

Idea: Idea stories are about the process of finding information. The main character devises some sort of plan, and we read to find out if their plan is the answer.  The story is over when the problem is solved.  (Plot-driven stories are Idea heavy.)

Character: The arc is about the transformation of a character in the community that matters most to him/her.  The main character is trying to change his or her role in life, and all relationships have to be relevant to that ultimate change.  Readers keep reading because they love the characters.  (Books like Twilight are Character heavy.)

Event: Event stories focus on events that disrupt the normal world and drive the story forward. Readers live through events with the main character, and the story ends with their success or failure.  (Books like The Hunger Games are Event heavy.)

Of course, no story is just one of these categories, and Susan shared that it's important to find a balance between the M.I.C.E. elements in your book.  That's not to say that you can't have a lot of one element, but if you find some of your M.I.C.E. lacking, it might be a good idea to find a way to boost them a bit.

To experiment with M.I.C.E., we did an exercise looking at the first page of our own manuscripts, as well as the first page from one of our favorite books.  We took markers and designated each M.I.C.E. element as a different color, then highlighted sentences accordingly on our print offs.  It was very interesting to see that some published books were well-balanced right off the bat, while others leaned a lot towards one of the elements.  Again, that's not a bad thing, but we discussed how some published openings might have been improved by adding a little more Character here or perhaps a bit of Milieu there. 

We then discussed the M.I.C.E. in our own first pages. The different colors make a great visual aid to help you see if your writing is balanced or in desperate need of more M.I.C.E.  Susan said this exercise isn't just for first pages, though.  It can be a great way to reconsider a scene that's giving you problems, or help you get a feel for the overall elements throughout your story.  I highly recommend trying this exercise with your own work!

You can find out more information about COSCBWI and events at: www.coscbwi.org.  I hope to see you at our August meeting!

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Summer Update

Gee, it's been a bit quiet around her lately, hasn't it?  I apologize for the lack of posts, but I've actually been quite productive!  In reparation for the insanity of tax season, my office goes down to summer hours starting around mid-June, and I have pounced on this opportunity to draft my new novel!  I'm already on my first round of edits, and it's been so much fun working on a new project.  It has occupied most of my time, though, and I have been a writing maniac for weeks on end.

I've also been practicing digital art on a program called Paint Tool Sai.  It's an interesting program, with a lot of pros and cons in comparison to Photoshop.  I hope by using the programs together, I can get a bit speedier with my art and therefore more productive, too!

Sai practice. I may be writing a new book, but I still love my old characters! 

And so, to sum up everything in my absence: I wrote, I wrote, I wrote some more, I did a little bit of art, and wrote a lot more.  But hey, I am a writer, so I guess that's what I really ought to be doing!

I hope everyone is having a nice, productive summer!  :)

Thursday, July 12, 2012

100th Post Extravaganza!

Wow, I can't believe I've reached my 100th post!  And not only that, but you see that little number down there in the corner?  I'm over 5,000 page views, too!

On this day of celebration, I wish I could give each and every one of you a big piece of cake.  Alas, baked goods do not travel well via the internet, so I will share my gratitude instead.  It truly feels like I started this blog yesterday, but in reality you've all listened to me ramble on for 99 posts.  (All the more reason you deserve cake!)  I just want you to know that I sincerely appreciate every reader, every comment, and ever page view that keeps me coming back to ramble on some more.

 Now, onward to another 100 posts!