Corrected Post / Writing Contest College Winner: The Truth Will Set Your Free, by Emily Butler
The Truth Will Set You Free
William Blake once wrote, “When I tell the truth, it is not for the sake of convincing those who do not know it, but for the sake of defending those that do.” In Flannery’ O’Connor’s “A Good Man is Hard to Find,” O’Connor strives to communicate truth to her readers in a much more directed and intentional way. Her truth-telling comes from an intention to convince, or inform, the ignorant. O’Connor’s religious beliefs led her to do so; she spread the truth to others just as Jesus did—through parables. Stories touch the heart, while overt direction tends to offend. Nevertheless, Flannery O’Connor writes to convince the ignorant and apathetic using a robust and sometimes hard-to-swallow theme of hypocrisy throughout “A Good Man is Hard to Find.”
The very names of O’Connor’s characters demonstrate her theme of hypocrisy. O’Connor intentionally names two of the antagonists, June Star and John Wesley, symbolically. With further analysis, it becomes evident that “June Star” is a name symbolic of astrology and horoscopes, practices which are prevalent in pagan religions such as Hinduism, Wicca, Buddhism, and Shintoism. At the same time, the name “John Wesley” is symbolic of Christianity— the religion that O’Connor practices herself. The real life John Wesley was a revivalist and the founder of the Methodist church. In “A Good Man is Hard to Find,” the two children act horribly on a car ride to Florida After the car accident occurred, both June Star and John Wesley screamed, “We’ve had an ACCIDENT!” but were disappointed that no one was killed. To the reader, there is no difference in their behaviors (O’Connor 185; O’Connor 189). Evidently, O’Connor wants her readers to analyze the symbolism she provides through these two characters. Her apparent intent in developing June Star and John Wesley as practically the same person is to cause offense by demonstrating their hypocrisy regardless of their religious affiliation . This consistency of awful behavior displays one of many clues into O’Connor’s theme of hypocrisy.
The character of Grandmother is similarly oblivious to her hypocritical behavior. She tells June Star to be ashamed of herself in public, yet does not say a single word to her in terms of discipline once the family returned to the car (186). Grandmother does this because she truly does not care about the actions of June Star; she only cares about how June Star’s rude behavior may reflect upon her as a “lady.” Grandmother also wears white gloves and elegant clothes in public so that she would be recognized as a lady (O’Connor 184). It could be said, therefore, that her attire provides the reader with a concrete symbol of hypocrisy: white for an outward display of purity and class juxtaposed against her manipulative and uppity behavior. Grandmother’s character proves to be the most effective example of hypocrisy—O’Connor writes her to be like a normal person a reader would see in 2014.
Not only do O’Connor’s name choices and character development confront the reader with the various guises of hypocrisy, but she also further emphasizes the shallow piety of her characters by juxtaposing them with the character The Misfit, who is the embodiment of the opposite evil: one who is perfectly aware of his own sins, but who is nonchalant and apathetic toward them. The Misfit very clearly states, “Nome, I ain’t a good man,” and continues to provide examples of why and how this is true (191). With this comparison, O’Connor is provoking internal conflict within her readers. As my English class discussed this story, the general consensus was that this character is a terrible person deserving no mercy. But I began to think, “Is it worse to do bad things, know it, and not hide it than to do bad things, know it, but act like you have it all together?” One could say that they are equally bad. After acknowledging this internal conflict within myself, it became clear that O’Connor is challenging her readers to question their own choices, and to examine their attitude toward their mistakes.
To put it simply, Flannery O’Connor’s “A Good Man Is Hard to Find” is a literary slap in the face. O’Connor’s underlying, yet overwhelming, theme of hypocrisy throughout the story provides convincing, and somewhat forceful, truth to readers. From my perspective, O’Connor’s purpose for this parable is to provoke her audience to reflect upon their own lives and choices. She simply painted a literary picture of various common expressions of hypocrisy so that readers will become aware of the darkness around, and within, themselves. O’Connor’s ideal world would not necessarily be made of all faultless people, but comprised of people who are aware of their sins, and deal with them appropriately.
O’Connor, Flannery. “A Good Man Is Hard to Find.” Literature and the Writing Process. Eds. Elizabeth McMahan, et. al. Boston: Longman, 2014. 183-93. Print.
Writing Contest High School Winner: Dragon’s Curse, by Justin McNabb
I am running through my school. A roaring, white dragon crashes through doors and knocks lockers out of its way as it chases me. I look back and curse loudly. It’s getting closer. I try to run faster, but my legs seem heavy as if cinderblocks were tied to them. Then I run into a locked door and curse again. I slam my shoulder against it, but it doesn’t budge. I look back. The dragon is almost upon me! I slam again. Nothing! No, no, no! You can’t take me! NO!
“NO!” I yell, waking up in my bed. I’m dripping sweat and shaking. My alarm clock says it’s two o’ clock in the morning. I sigh and lay my head back down on the pillow. Same nightmare . . . again.
My mother opens the door, a concerned look on her slightly tanned face. “Eli, is everything all right? I heard yelling.”
“I’m fine, it was just a dream,” I reply, rubbing my temples.
She cocks an eyebrow. “The same dream you told me about? The dragon chasing you through the school?”
I nod. “Yeah.”
She comes over and places a hand against my forehead. “Good gracious, you’re burning up! I think you should stay home from school today.”
“I’ll be fine.” I immediately regret saying that. I know better than to argue, even though I know I’m not sick. I follow up before she can reply. “I won’t go to school, but I’m not staying in bed all day.”
She keeps her gaze on me for a few moments, then goes to the door, “Okay. But you have homework to do in the morning, so don’t get any ideas.”
“Got it,” I say.
Mom heads back to bed, but as soon as the door closes, I grab a pair of black and dark grey camouflage pattern cargo pants, a black T-shirt, and pair of boxer-briefs and hastily put them on. I look over at my sweat soaked sheets and resolve to wash them later. I pull on thick socks and a pair of black boots that come up to just below mid-calf on my legs and tuck the bottom of my pants legs into them. As I tip-toe through the hallway, I open the closet and grab a jacket and a beanie cap. I then head outside.
I’m heading toward my favorite spot, where I always go when I need to think. There’s a hill with a tree growing on it, and a pond at the base on the north side. I live with my mother and father on a secluded piece of land in Alaska, so I’m not worried about anyone seeing me. The nearest town is almost twenty miles away in any direction.
As I walk up the hill, I notice that there are no clouds in the sky and the moon is full. Its light dims the stars near it, but I can still see a few brilliant clusters toward the horizon. I used to try to count them, but soon gave up. And, as I got older, I had less time. My days are often so busy that I go to bed late at night. That’s life in Alaska: chores, chores, more chores, and school. I manage to keep straight A’s in all classes except math, which I can never seem to raise above a C. So most of my free-time is in early mornings before the sun is even up.
Or times like this, when I can steal away without my parents knowing.
I gaze at the moon for a few minutes, or at least I think it’s a few minutes. But then I notice something different. The moon is slowly turning a dark shade of blue. I frown and think how strange it is. Is it normal for the moon to do that? Something to do with the time of year and being so close to the Arctic Circle? I decide not.
My thoughts are interrupted when I feel a prickling sensation on my arm, like something is crawling on my skin. I reach over to scratch it, but remember that I am wearing the jacket. Why is my arm itchy? I pull the sleeve back and stare in shock at what I find: my skin is turning hard and is separating itself into what appears to be scales like a snake or lizard.
“What in the world?” I exclaim.
The scales continue to form, and I start feeling it in the rest of my body. I start scratching my chest and arms and legs. I unzip my jacket and hurriedly take it off, then lift my shirt. My stomach is covered in white scales!
“This can’t be happening!” I cry out in panic. “What’s going on?”
I fall to my knees after feeling them pop out of socket. Agony spreads throughout my body as I feel myself changing. But into what? I see light swirling around me. The light brings more pain. I hear a tearing sound as my shirt rips. I feel something growing out of my back. I am on my hands and knees, unable to move. I feel like my body is being torn apart from the inside out. I cough and blood comes out. It stains the ground dark crimson in splotches. An agonized cry rips from my throat and the light swirls around me faster and faster until all I can see is streaks of bright yellow in a wall of orange like a fire is trying to consume my body. I feel myself grow larger and larger by the second, my bones crack and split and I feel a pressure in my lower back. I turn and find a tail had sprouted from the seat of my pants. I growl and close my eyes. Trying to ignore the burning pain that courses through my frame. Soon the light starts to fade away, and I cry out one last time. But it’s not a normal cry I hear; instead it’s the roar of some great beast that bellows from my mouth. As the pain leaves my body, I collapse. I feel changed, different . . .alien. I slowly pull myself to the north side of the hill so I can see the pond. When I look into it, I am completely shocked at what I see.
The face of a white dragon.
The adrenaline from the pain is fading, bringing weakness and a darkness to my vision as my mind slowly slips into unconsciousness. The last thing I see before my sight fades away is a distant, hazy figure coming towards me.
I slip away into the depths of my own subconscious, and my mind wanders through a strange world of dreams. I see again the white dragon that chases me through the school hallways. I run again, as I always have. This time I head straight for the gymnasium. I will be safe there. I can hide underneath the bleachers. I slam open the double doors and sprint as fast as my legs can carry me. Then I slam into a wall that had materialized out of nowhere. I try to go around, but it is extending and blocking me. I back away, trying to see if I can scale it. But something catches my eyes. There are glowing symbols on the wall, and they seem to emanate whispering voices. I turn and am startled. The dragon is standing there, looking me in the eyes. It is not roaring or growling anymore, just standing there, looking at me. What does it want? Why is it not tearing me to shreds?
Too many questions flood my mind, and the whispering symbols are growing louder and louder. I try to listen more closely. They seem to be repeating one word: Makaidos. I don’t know why, but I instinctively know it’s a name. But who is Makaidos?
The dragon stretches out its neck and touches its snout against my forehead. I feel a tingling sensation like I’m holding a lit match next to my skin.
I hear a voice like a young woman’s. It whispers in my mind, “Remember who you were.”
Then I hear another voice calling me. “Wake up! Please, wake up!”
The voice keeps pleading and the dragon fades as my dream dissolves back into the void of my subconscious. My eyes slowly open to a distorted world. As my eyes adjust, my sight returns, and I see a face I have never seen before. The face is of a girl in her late teens. Beautiful with slightly rounded cheeks, diamond blue eyes, and auburn hair. She seems Asian, Japanese, maybe. But the hair color says otherwise. Her clothes are odd: like she’s wearing some sort of school uniform.
She is clearly worried at first, but then she smiles. It’s the kind of smile I’ve seen Mom give to Dad whenever he comes home from a long day at work or a hunting trip. Then she grabs my shoulders and pulls me upright into a tight hug. She heaves out a breath that is somewhere between a gasp and a sigh of relief.
“You’re awake! You’re here! I can’t believe it! After all these years of searching we’re finally together again!” she says with obvious excitement in her voice.
I push her back, a thousand questions now racing through my mind. “Hold on. Who the heck are you?”
She’s surprised at this. “You mean . . . you don’t remember me? You don’t know who I am?”
I shake my head. “I think I’d remember a red-headed Asian girl.”
I reach over to scratch my arm, and my strange transformation flashes through my mind. Had I really turned into a dragon? I look at my hands and see that they are normal again. I feel my chest and am relieved to feel my shirt still intact. I know it wasn’t a dream. I look around and, for the first time, realize I’m sitting on a cot in a log cabin I’ve never been in before. So how did I end up here, and back to normal?
I look back at the girl and somehow know she is perfectly aware of everything that just happened. “Where am I?”
She replies, “My name is Katrina, and we’re in a cabin that has been abandoned for many years.”
I look at the door behind her and notice it is ajar with rusted hinges, one of which looks ready to break at any moment. The door is also missing a doorknob. I hear a loud creak above me and look up. I immediately find that I do not trust the ceiling would hold for any longer than a few months. When I had finished a quick study of my surroundings, I looked back at Katrina. “What did you mean when you said ‘we’re finally together again’? I really don’t know you other than your name. Do I?”
She looks away towards the wall to the left of the door and bites her lip, possibly nervous. After a few seconds of silence, she turns back to me. “It’s a very long story. And a crazy one. You might not believe it.”
I roll my eyes. “I turned into a dragon! I think I’m ready to believe that leprechauns and unicorns really exist.” I then look straight at her. “So start at the beginning.”
She nods slightly and her gaze falls to the floor. “A long time ago on a world very different from this one, we were dragons. But not just any dragons, we were the king and queen of the dragon race, and we were mates. Husband and wife kinda thing. My name was Lucilia and yours was Makaidos.”
She continues on with how we met. How she knew I had a kind heart because I risked my life to save orphaned hatchling dragons from a burning building. That I used to find her annoying but eventually fell in love with her. How we became engaged at an early age. How we soon found out that I was to be the next king because I started shedding silver scales and growing golden ones. How I was cursed to be a human by a sorcerer. And so many more things. I sat on the cot and listened in silence. So many things had happened that I have no memory of.
When she had finished, dawn was rising. She bites her lip and looks away, blushing, “I’ve told you everything I remember.”
I look up at the ceiling and close my eyes, trying to digest all of this information. Could all of this be true? Am I really a dragon cursed to be a human? What did I do to tick the sorcerer off so badly? So many more questions flood my mind.
My head hurts, and I begin to rub my temples. After a few moments, I realize she’s staring intently at me, her eyes searching mine for an answer. I sigh and glance away. My throat is dry.
This has to be true. It feels true.
I face her again. “I believe you,” I say, and it’s not a lie.
She smiles the same radiant smile I saw earlier. She lunges forward and throws her arms around me in a hug. “I knew you would!” she says, and she tries to kiss me.
I push her back again. “Just because I say I believe you doesn’t mean we’re married. Not now, anyway. I don’t know you.”
She frowns, “But we ARE married. We’re just not dragons.”
“Not anymore. I just met you, and I don’t remember a thing from our life before,” I argue.
“It doesn’t matter,” she replies, her tone hinting annoyance. “We are married.” She then breaks into a smile like she just thought of something. “And I can make you remember.”
I cock an eyebrow., “What are you smil—”
I am not able to finish my sentence, for she suddenly grabs my head and pulls me into a kiss. I try to push her back, but suddenly I feel an intense heat in my skull and everything in my vision grows further away like I’m flying backwards. Then everything goes stark white.
In the white landscape I now see, there is only one thing I recognize: Katrina walking towards me. But the clothes she was previously wearing had been replaced by some form of regal garment like a queen’s dress. But it was not “poofy” like in movies, it was slim and effervescent. Then I see the white dragon from my dreams behind her, walking in perfect pace. I hear her speak and both her lips and the dragon’s move in unison. Her voice and its echo multiple times into a melody of voices seeming to come from everywhere at once.
“I am Lucilia,” she says, “queen of the dragons on Drakenguard. Your wife. Your mate. I am your past, present, and your future. Our destinies intertwine like two strings in a single cord. A bond that shall never be severed, no matter how sharp the sword is that strikes it.”
I back away, frightened by the scene before me. “Keep away from me!” I stumble, realizing now that I am a dragon again and unable to use four legs at once. I try to stand.
She is getting closer. “Why do you fight to keep away from me? I am the opposite of your enemy. I am your love.” Her voice is haunting.
I carefully back away from her again, “Katri— . . . Lucil—, whoever you say you are, stay away!” She is very close now, just beyond arm’s length. Suddenly, my body feels different and I find I’m human once more. Behind me is another white dragon that’s mimicking my movements.
Katrina, or Lucilia, stretches out her arm towards me, and the dragon stretches her neck towards the dragon behind me.
Her hand touches my cheek softly, and light appears at that corner of my vision. She whispers, “Remember.”
Then my vision flashes with different images and my senses are assaulted by different sounds, smells, emotions and touches. My head burns with pain twice the intensity of a migraine. I can barely hear my agonized scream with all the voices and sounds being pressed upon me. I feel like my head is ready to explode. After what seemed like hours, her hand leaves my cheek and my vision returns . . . but only for a moment. Darkness quickly takes over and there is silence.
~* * *~
I release my lips from his, breaking the kiss. His eyes are closed and his breathing slow. I gently lay him back down on the cot, his head on the pillow. Even though he is not a dragon currently, he is still handsome. I place a hand against his cheek, but no sooner than I do, he arches up and a piercing, agonized scream rips from his mouth. Surprised, I back up to the wall and watch as he writhes on the cot. I clutch my hand over my heart and feel it pounding. Then, as suddenly as it had begun, his fit stops and he falls silent and motionless. His breathing is normal again, but his face still seems in pain. I inch towards him, slowly reaching my hand towards his face. I hesitate when it is half an inch away from his forehead. Should I do it? Or would it just cause him to go crazy again?
Only one way to find out.
I gently touch his brow, but nothing happens. I remove my hand and back away. I should let him rest. He’s been through a lot. I exit the room and close the door softly. Heading to the fireplace in the living room, I coax a fire from the embers with a fresh log and gentle blowing. Once the fire takes hold, I sit back in a recliner with a broken footrest. A door opens and I turn my head to see what made the noise. A girl walks into the room. She is dressed in Japanese school clothes just like me. Her name is Izanami.
She looks nervously at the door I just came out of. “I heard yelling. What happened?”
I shrug. “I really don’t know.” I then begin explain what I had tried and Makaido’s reaction. After I finish, I slump forward. “When he screamed, I felt so afraid.”
She seems very surprised. “He doesn’t remember you? Not even a little bit?”
I groan. “I know! It’s horrible! It broke my heart when he pushed me away and asked me who I was!” I can barely contain the tears welling up inside me right now. I choke back a sob. Izanami comes over and gives me a comforting hug. That is when the tears flowed freely.
~* * *~
My eyes open slowly. Everything is fuzzy and there is a loud ringing in my ears as if a grenade blew up near me. I clutch my head with both hands. I sit up, kick the covers off, and breathe deeply. The pain subsides a little, and I try to stand. I don’t know how long I’ve been out. But I have to get out of here.
I rise, but my head flares with pain and I crumble back to the cot, “Crap!”
Then I hear voices on the other side of the door. I ignore the pain and stand again, then walk over. I press my ear up to the door and hear someone talking and sobbing. It sounds like Katrina, but I can’t tell what she’s saying. Someone else responds. Another girl. I don’t recognize the voice, but she seems to be speaking a foreign language. Possibly Japanese.
Am I still in Alaska? What else can go wrong?
As if on cue, I hear footsteps coming to the door. I dash back to the cot and lay down, pretending to sleep. The door opens and the footsteps come closer. Then I feel a hand touch my cheek and hear whispering. The hand lingers a few moments, then is pulled away. The two girls continue whispering in Japanese. I lay as still as I can, keeping my eyes closed and controlling my breathing. I wait and listen, knowing they are talking about me.
And The Winners of the Writing Contest Are…
Michael Taylor: Friday, June 13th
Justin McNabb: Friday, June 20th
Emily Butler: Friday, June 27th
Please congratulate these young writers! They did an awesome job!
The Finish Line
The writing contest is now officially closed. Thanks to everyone who submitted!
Over the next week, I’ll be reading the entries. Winners in each category will have their manuscript returned with suggestions for edits prior to the submission being posted up on my website. I’ll also give some less detailed editorial suggestions to those who didn’t win as a way of saying thanks for entering.
Bursting With a Story?
So far, I’ve had several AWESOME people make several AWESOME submissions to my AWESOME writing contest!
But it’s not too late. If you’re a 6th grader, high-schooler, or college student and you’re about to BURST with a story of your own, submit it for consideration.
It can be a short story or the first chapter of a book (15 pages or less) from any genre of fiction or non-fiction. A winner from each age group will receive a written critique of their story, and will have the edited version of their work posted on my website.
There is no cost for submission, and the deadline is May 23rd. See my website for more details.
Writing Contest Kids—College
CONTEST GUIDELINES: If you’re a middle schooler, high schooler, or college student and a writer, here’s your chance to shine. Sign up to follow my blog at http://www.nathanlumbatis.com, and then send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org letting me know you are registering for the contest.
RULES: Submit a short story or the first chapter from your manuscript (app. first 15 pages or less) by email on or before May 23rd. Most genres are welcome, but any inappropriate material (gore, sexually explicit themes/scenes, etc.) will automatically disqualify the entry.
WINNERS: The best three entries will be chosen as winners: one from middle school, one from high school, and one from college. They will then receive a written critique of their entry, and the edited version of their work will be posted on my website and social networking profiles.
Don’t miss this opportunity to get experience and feedback on your writing!
It All Starts Somewhere
“When did I start on this path?”
Do you ever ask yourself that question? It’s something I’ve thought about a lot. When did I first know I wanted to marry my wife? When did I realize I wanted to become a counselor? When did I begin to love writing?
For you, the questions might be different, but they’re worth reflection. It’ll give you insight into how God has orchestrated your life: led you, pushed you, given you reign, or smacked you upside the head. The flip-side? It’ll encourage you for the future. Confused about something in your life? Not sure how all the pieces will fit together? Wait and watch. See how God will use it. Life is like a mystery story where every detail is there for a reason.
I remember when I really started on the path to writing. I didn’t know what it would come to in the end (and still don’t, if I’m being entirely honest). But it all began when I was homeschooling as a teenager. Nearly every day, my sister and I would hurry to finish our lessons so we could go exploring. The eastern fork of the Choctawhatchee River ran behind my house, and the sloping, wooded river basin was the perfect place to get lost, forget about the real world, and set up camp underneath an ancient beech tree. It was ideal for a little writing. And great inspiration for story-scenes and maps, which every fantasy author knows is a must.
What about your story? Your gifts? Your abilities? Already figured out how God will use them in your life, or are you still waiting to bloom? Just give it time. It is spring, after all.
Guest Blog with Mikelyn Bolden
Today, I am the featured blogger on Mikelyn Bolden’s website. For those of you who don’t know, Mikelyn is a fellow Dothan writer, and is the author of The Waiz Chronicles. I’ve posted my article below, but click on her photo to head on over to her website.
The stories we tell come from our hearts, or, are at least derived from our own grid of thinking. My fellow author and friend, Nathan Lumbatis, recently signed with Ellechor Publishing and will be releasing his first novel in the summer of 2015. He chose a more specific genre to tell his tale. See his reasoning and get a sneak peak of his book below:
Christian fantasy is interested in the “What if?” It presumes a Christian worldview, but then lets the imagination run wild.
What if you and your siblings discover that a musty wardrobe will transport you to a magical world where animals talk, magicians are fallen stars, and a Wild Lion is willing to sacrifice himself for your brother?
What if you find yourself stumbling through the tombs of Anak, desperately trying to solve the mystery behind a sinister family and the treasure it’s hoarding?
What if the Ancient One gave you gifts of prophecy and wisdom to lead a nation to greatness through your protege Arthur Pendragon?
Many of you may recognize these story lines from The Chronicles of Narnia (Lewis), The Tombs of Anak (Peretti), and Merlin (Lawhead). They all have Christian themes, but if we’re honest, it’s the way those themes are interwoven with the mythological and supernatural that give them such strong appeal.
In my novel, Daniel and the Sun Sword (Summer 2015), the main character is thrust into a world where Christianity and mythology intersect. The plot presumes that the myths of the world were born from mankind’s fleeting glimpses into the battle between God and Satan. In this, the first book of the Sons and Daughters series, Daniel and his two friends are transported to Machu Picchu, Peru, where they find that the gods and monsters of Incan legend are alive and kicking. . . or so it seems. An ancient deity known simply as the Father adopts him as his son, and sets him on a quest to unite the shards of a magical sword. But when that quest pits him against the “god” of the underworld, Daniel discovers he isn’t simply battling for a sword of legend. He’s partaking in an ancient battle between Life and Death and the supernatural forces behind them. There may be more to his Heavenly Father than he first realized.
With the success of series like Percy Jackson and the Olympians and The Kane Chronicles, mythology is in the forefront of teen literature. The “What if?” of Daniel and the Sun Sword takes that interest and focuses it on the Gospel.
What is your favorite “What if”? If you’re a writer, what “What ifs?” could you weave into your next story?
The Poor Man’s Guide to Learning How to Write
You’ve got the most awesome idea for a novel, and you’re pounding away on your outline. The plot is so exciting that even you can’t wait to find out what happens next. No doubt it’ll blow everyone away, and the money’s going to be pouring in so fast old J.K. Rowling will be knocking on your door for a loan.
Pretty soon, all you’ll have to do is write the actual book and then get it published.
Turning from the planning phase to the actual writing can be a downer, especially if it’s a first attempt at a novel. And, if you’re like most authors I know, you don’t have the time or money (or desire) to get an MFA in Creative Writing. Luckily, there are several very cost effective and efficient ways to begin learning how to craft your story.
There are loads of books written on the art of writing, but here are the ones I’ve found the most helpful.
The Curious Case of the Misplaced Modifier: How to Solve the 10 Mysteries of Weak Writing by Bonnie Trenga is an easy to understand, humorous, and (happily) short book that will help you make sense of all those grammar rules you forgot you ever learned.
Self-Editing for Fiction Writers: How to Edit Yourself Into Print by Browne and King wittily explains how you can self-edit your manuscript and includes exercises on how to strengthen your writing.
Writing Great Books for Young Adults by Regina Brooks will tell you everything you need to know about writing styles, plots, points of view, writing dialogue, and character development if you are targeting a young adult audience.
If you really really really want to get published, find a creative writing group in your area that focuses on critiquing its members’ work. Nothing will improve your writing better than some constructive criticism.
If you aren’t fortunate enough to live in a city with a group, there are critiquing groups online. My favorite is authonomy.com. It’s free, easy to use, and has thousands of members desperate to trade critiques so they can improve their own standing on the site. What’s more, the five top-rated authors are reviewed for publication by Harper Collins each month. That’s a deal you can’t beat.