Welcome to the Violets Are Blue Blog Tour!
To celebrate the release of Violets Are Blue by Barbara Dee on October 12th, blogs across the web will be featuring exclusive guest posts from Barbara as well as 5 chances to win a signed copy all week long!
The Sounds of Their Voices
by Barbara Dee
I’m an auditory writer, not a visual writer. By that I mean I rarely write descriptions of landscapes, or even the way characters look. I’m much more interested in the way characters sound, especially as they interact with each other in conversation. And as I write dialogue, I keep in mind that adults need to sound like adults, kids need to sound like kids—and that they all need to have distinct voices.
So I ask myself certain questions about the characters’ speaking styles. For example: Do they speak in long sentences, or short ones? Do they ask a lot of questions? Do they interrupt? Do they pause or hesitate or trail off? Do they use slang or formal speech? Do they have favorite expressions, especially those they use in moments of anger, frustration, excitement? What’s their tone—sarcastic, sympathetic, tense, calm? Is their voice hoarse, sharp, quiet, shrill, musical?
To get a grip on my characters, I don’t need to see their faces; I need to hear them speak. Sometimes as I’m writing I’ll read a manuscript aloud to hear how my characters are sounding. What I’m listening for most of all is natural, authentic speech—no elevated diction (unless it’s in character). This is essential, because middle grade readers have sharp ears exquisitely attuned to authenticity.
I remember how, when my daughter was about eight or nine, she abruptly abandoned a popular series, so I asked her why. “Because the characters never use contractions,” she told me. “They say ‘I cannot,” and ‘I do not,’ and that’s not how kids talk.”
If you’re writing middle grade fiction, nothing is more important than sounding like a kid. The challenge is not to overuse kidspeak. You need to keep in mind that certain expressions will sound fresh as you’re drafting your manuscript, but may become passé by the time the book is published. As I learned from my daughter, if you get the voice even slightly wrong—if you sound dated, or, even worse, if you sound like an adult– you’ll turn off your readers.
And here’s the funny part: Although I know my characters are working when I can hear how they sound, I know my plot is working when I can see where they live. For every book I write, I develop an almost architectural blueprint of the main character’s house. In Violets Are Blue, I have a strong sense of the layout of the townhouse: the door leading into the kitchen, the living room next to it, the staircase, and the two bedrooms, each with its own bathroom. All of this detail is significant to the plot, so it’s important to get straight how characters travel from one room to the next.
And of course how you can hear, or overhear, their voices throughout the house.
“Barbara Dee has done it AGAIN! She tackles tough topics with such great care. She is to middle schoolers today what Judy Blume was to me in the 80’s. I give Violets Are Blue ALL the stars and thumbs up.”
– Amanda Jones, 2021 School Library Journal Co-Librarian of the Year
“[F]requently poignant… With flawed, realistic characters and dynamics, this reconciliatory novel is a believable balm for young people at the mercy of adult choices and scenarios.”
– Publishers Weekly
From the author of the acclaimed My Life in the Fish Tank and Maybe He Just Likes You comes a moving and relatable middle grade novel about secrets, family, and the power of forgiveness.
Twelve-year-old Wren loves makeup—special effect makeup, to be exact. When she is experimenting with new looks, Wren can create a different version of herself. A girl who isn’t in a sort-of-best friendship with someone who seems like she hates her. A girl whose parents aren’t divorced and doesn’t have to learn to like her new stepmom.
So, when Wren and her mom move to a new town for a fresh start, she is cautiously optimistic. And things seem to fall into place when Wren meets potential friends and gets selected as the makeup artist for her school’s upcoming production of Wicked.
Only, Wren’s mom isn’t doing so well. She’s taking a lot of naps, starts snapping at Wren for no reason, and always seems to be sick. And what’s worse, Wren keeps getting hints that things aren’t going well at her new job at the hospital, where her mom is a nurse. And after an opening night disaster leads to a heartbreaking discovery, Wren realizes that her mother has a serious problem—a problem that can’t be wiped away or covered up.
After all the progress she’s made, can Wren start over again with her devastating new normal? And will she ever be able to heal the broken trust with her mom?
Learn how to create the mermaid makeup effect from the cover!:
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Barbara Dee is the author of twelve middle grade novels published by Simon & Schuster, including Violets Are Blue, My Life in the Fish Tank, Maybe He Just Likes You, Everything I Know About You, Halfway Normal, and Star-Crossed. Her books have earned several starred reviews, have been shortlisted for many state book awards, and have been named to best-of lists including the The Washington Post’s Best Children’s Books, the ALA Notable Children’s Books, the ALA Rise: A Feminist Book Project List, the NCSS-CBC Notable Social Studies Trade Books for Young People, and the ALA Rainbow List Top Ten. Barbara lives with her family, including a naughty cat named Luna and a sweet rescue hound named Ripley, in Westchester County, New York.
- One (1) winner will receive a hardcover of Violets Are Blue by Barbara Dee with a SIGNED bookplate
- US/Can only
- Ends 11:59pm ET on 10/24
- Enter using the Rafflecopter above
- Check out the other stops along the tour for more chances to win!
Blog Tour Schedule:
October 11th – Pragmatic Mom
October 12th – Imagination Soup
October 13th – From the Mixed-Up Files of Middle-Grade Authors
October 14th – YA Books Central
October 15th – Good Choice Reading
I have read this author’s works before, so I believe this will be another wonderful middle grade read. I like the motif of makeup as that will be interesting for the readers of this age and the story will be relatable for many children today.
I have been hearing a LOT about this book. It’s high on my TBR list. Thanks for this interesting post.
This author knows how to authentically present tough topics/issues to readers and I can’t wait to read this book too.
Gorgeous book trailer! I am so excited to read Barbara’s new title–such an important story. AND I just got my notice that I’m next on the Columbus Metro Library’s hold list. Woo Hoo!
My daughter and I both identify with Wren and would love to read this book! My daughter is already a Barbara Dee fan. 🙂