Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Is It Almost Midnight?

Is it almost midnight,
when the bells will chime?
Can it be the new year?
Is it really time?

Yes, it's almost midnight of the old year and time for the new year to ring in! How fast the months of 2011 have flown. It's now the 11th hour and time for the annual stock taking.

Time for the reckoning of our writing!

How did I use the many precious hours of the past year for my writing? Will I carve out ample time and regulate myself to write next year? Looking back I did put in time at my desk formulating new story ideas, characters and plot and molded some into new manuscripts as well as working on some WIP. I started the year off with a SCBWI writing conference in Miami which I left charged and ready to go and started a new manuscript that week.

During the year I kept at it but occasionally lost steam, as we do from time to time, but then I got back to the computer and started again. And I love the process once seated and let the mind work and the fingers tap away. I am excited about an old WIP that I just started to work on again so the new year will start out well. I just need to keep the furnace burning all year - I have the fuel but need to keep the fire lit!

What are your hints for the next year?

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Saturday, December 24, 2011

Holiday Guidelines for Writers

If you’re with family for the holidays, you might not be doing too much writing. But you could be watching, thinking, even taking a few notes.

Family gatherings are great fodder for writing material. Keep your ears perked and your pen handily hidden for those priceless, snarky comments from your stiff Aunt Betty about teenage Lindsay’s Christmas outfit. Notice eight-year-old Joey’s ability to find and sort his pile of presents in three seconds flat, even though he can’t find his books in his backpack.

But beware -- we writers are prone to ulterior motives. We want a story.

No matter how tempting, don’t mention to Aunt Betty that Lindsay recently pierced her navel. The holidays are a time for graciousness after all. You could invite your old friend Mike, who hasn’t found cartilage he wouldn’t put a ring through. He might, by chance, be seated next to Aunt Betty. By chance…but keep your pen handy…

Enjoy the holidays everyone!

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Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Getting in the Spirit

Confession – Thanks to Gale’s wonderful post, I have completely reassigned my mental energy to Christmas. So when faced with the task of writing a meaningful blog post I wondered…how many of you are actually, um, reading this? It’s the second night of Hannukah. And 4 days before Christmas. Winter breaks have begun. And baked goods have become the biggest portion of my food pyramid.

But, I'll try...

One of the things I love about the holidays is the stories. Okay, mostly in movie form, but some of my favorites are based on books and short stories. A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens. How the Grinch Stole Christmas by Dr. Suess. A Christmas Story by Jean Shepherd. There’s nothing like being snuggled under a blanket, holding a mug of something warm (or a glass of something that will warm you!) and watching a great movie (or reading a book!) by the glow of a Christmas tree to get me in the mood for the holidays.

What are some of your favorite books or movies that get you in the holiday spirit?

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Monday, December 19, 2011

You Talking to Me?

Question: When writing in first person, who does your main character talk to?

When I began writing, I always considered my audience. My first novel was middle grade, so my main character spoke to a middle grade reader. As I wrote it, I pictured him speaking directly to the reader -- to every reader who picked up that book. He would tell that story to anyone willing to listen.

But now, as I revise a YA, I'm giving very careful thought as to whom my main character will confide his deepest personal thoughts and feelings.

MY WIP is written in past tense, which gives me more options than my first novel -- written in present tense -- did. So who does this boy talk to? And how does this choice color the way he tells his story?

Does he talk to a girl he is currently in love with, sitting on a dock, watching boats sail in and out? Or is he a little tipsy and telling the story of senior year to his freshman roommate? Or, is he talking to the reader, and if so, how far away is he from the timeline of the story? Each choice changes the way the story is told, unbeknownst to the reader.

I'm not ready to reveal the choice I made. After all, I'm still revising. I may change it again. And again. And again. But I do know one thing for certain. My main character deserves to tell his story to someone who will really listen.

So I ask all you first person writers -- who does your main character talk to?

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Thursday, December 15, 2011

'Tis the Season - LOL or LOS?

Last week I didn't LOL - even once. Instead of being a Lady Of Laughter, I was an LOS - Lady Of Stress. I had finished a round of requested revisions on my current picture book, and was beating myself up for not starting something new. My idea bank was empty and every time I tried to make a deposit, my mind wandered to the family gift list, getting the house in order for three sets of Christmas staying-over guests, menu planning, wrapping, decorating, baking, etc. etc.

LOL? No, m'am.

Then one morning when I woke with yet another tension headache, I decided enough is enough! I gave myself a stern lecture: stop stewing about writing. Reassign your mental energy to Christmas.

This year my December WIP will be the Christmas cards. So be it.

Happy Hanukkah and Merry Christmas to everyone!

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Thursday, December 8, 2011

No Longer Dreaming

For many years, I have dreamed of having a published book. I dreamed of the author bio, and I dreamed of the dedication. I dreamed of my author website, and I dreamed of my author visits.

But, for many years, I told myself that these dreams had to be put aside. Otherwise, I would never actually get a book published.

But now, that first book is just months away, and many of the things I used to just dream about have become real items on my writer's to do list.

Months ago, I wrote my author bio and dedication. Now it is a pleasure to see both in the incredible F&G's my editor recently shared with me (and my 5-year-old truck enthusiast loves having a book dedicated to him!).

A few weeks ago, I printed up a business card with my book cover on it, and it feels awesome to have a business card with my book cover on it. But...

the website I listed on the business card was a mere place holder page. Nothing like the site I had envisioned in my mind.

So, I have been hard at work designing that website (still very much a work in progress- but I couldn't write this blog post without sharing what I've done so far!). And on that site, I get to describe those school visits I have imagined doing for so long.

It is very exciting to work on these things, but stressful too at times. I hope everything comes out right. And I hope I manage to balance my time correctly, so I still get to keep writing and, hopefully sometime soon, get to celebrate a book #2.

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Sunday, December 4, 2011

A Constant Reminder

I took away an important suggestion from the latest critique of my manuscript. I must let my reader get closer to my protagonist; to feel what she is thinking, to know what she wants, and to be continually reminded of it.

A seasonal analogy presents itself in the old song, "The Twelve Days of Christmas." Each day the recipient gets a gift from his true love, along with a "partridge in a pear tree." Imagine the song without this quirky refrain to tie it together. Flat. Boring. A series of things, and not much fun to sing.

As the story moves forward, I've got to see that my heroine's hopes and dreams are like the refrain of that song; barely noticeable, but never absent.

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Thursday, December 1, 2011

A Haiku for You

New York City has turned to haiku to warn its citizens of traffic hazards. So in support of looking both ways before crossing the street or hitting send, I offer up my haiku for writers anywhere along the submission process:

Submission sent out
Check email ten times per hour
Computer crashes

Add your submission comments--in haiku, of course!

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Monday, November 28, 2011

Florida Panthers - and Other Critters

This evening I am attending a Panther Program for children at our county library here in Southwest Florida. Florida panthers are highly endangered. Their first serious encounters with modern man came with hunters arriving to what then was wilderness to track down trophies. Today the panthers' challenge is to outrun the many cars speeding on the highways.

Great efforts are being taken to safeguard panthers here. The small panther is being brought to the library tonight by the Kowiachobee Animal Preserve so children may see what a baby panther looks like and so they can learn of the efforts to protect these precious panthers.

For a children's writer it's going to be fun and interesting to watch the children observing this tiny but exotic cat. And what great story seeds might sprout from here!

In our travels this year we have seen numerous and wonderful animals that would be intriguing subjects for children's books. When traveling in Bhutan we were hoping to see a yak, but alas, yaks only come down to 10,000 feet or so in the winter and in the summer and warmer months graze at around 12,000 to 14,000 feet in the mountains. But we did meet well built oxen that pulled us in carts through green rice fields one evening to visit a local village. We rode elephants, perched on wooden saddles, to tour Chitwan National Park through the jungle. Perhaps the most fascinating were the Gharial crocodiles that we viewed at a crocodile farm preserve near the park. These crocodiles are protected at the farm and efforts are made to encourage growth of their population. The Gharial crocodiles have an astounding snout! From the long tapered snout that resembles other crocodile types is an extension that is 14 to 22 inches long and an inch or so wide and looks like a pirate's sword! They appear to be an amazing leftover from prehistoric times!

What incredible creatures and critters to pop up on the pages of children's books!

I'm going to watch closely this evening and perhaps come home with a glimmer of a new story.

What critters have you encountered lately? .

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Thursday, November 24, 2011

Thanks for the Words

If you find that you need to ‘butter someone up’, or wonder if the elderly man is ‘as old as the hills’, at ‘death’s door’, or about to ‘bite the dust’, you are thinking in biblical terms. Surprised? I was.

The Bible is a masterpiece of authoring and editing. Culturally so ingrained, often we don’t realize we are referring to it. Consider some of the phrases the Bible introduced into our lexicon:

• Turned the world upside down (Acts 17:6
• Apple of my eye (Deuteronomy 32:10
• The root of the matter (Job 19:28
• The skin of my teeth (Job 19:20
• Fell flat on his face (Numbers 22:31
• Pour out your heart (Psalms 62:8
• Wits’ end (Psalm 107:27)
• From time to time (Ezekiel 4:10
• Blind leading the blind (Matthew 15:14
• Scum of the earth (1 Corinthians 4:12-14)

National Geographic has just highlighted these and other fascinating insights in its December 2011 issue.

With re-readable plots and subplots, a balance of dialogue and description, and a thread that pulls the story from beginning to end, the original Bible text was, in some cases, inscribed on papyrus.  Notwithstanding those tedious chapters on lineage, and even with divine inspiration, how do you pull that off in a draft or two? 

In addition to the Greek and Hebrew-speaking authors, Latin and English translators (e.g., default editors) deserve some credit. Under King James I in England, the well-known English translation was first produced more than 400 years ago. And today, over 100 million Bibles are sold or given away each year. 

Since to everything there is a season (Ecclesiastes 3:1), Thanksgiving seems an appropriate time to stand in awe (Psalms 4:4) of the writers and editors of the Bible. Happy Thanksgiving!

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Monday, November 21, 2011


Okay, I’m not gonna lie…my mind is in a million different places at once. It’s all good – nice, fun sort of stress, but still – coming up with a witty, exciting, fresh post for y’all is challenging today. Seeing that we’re three days away from Thanksgiving, I’m going to talk about GRATITUDE.

I know, not original or fresh, but I told you…I’m stressing here!

I’m grateful for so many things in my life, but since this is a writing blog, I will stick to, well, writing and why I am truly grateful to be in this sometimes (ha!) crazy business.

Truth: writing doesn’t always make me happy. (shocker!) At times it makes me downright miserable. A crappy writing day can spill over into the rest of my life, and suddenly nothing seems right. I’m moody, short with those I love and even the slightest look in my direction can send me into a downward spiral of “Why do I do this again?”

Conversely, an awesome writing day, well wow, does it get any better? Even when it rains and dinner burns and you realize that you’ve been using your vacuum as a coat hanger and the floor is so full of lint you could probably fashion a stocking cap out of it…none of it matters because you’ve been in the zone.

Oddly enough, I’m grateful for both kinds of days. The bad ones because they make me dig deeper. The good ones don’t need any explanation, do they?

I’m also grateful for the people I have met on this journey. I have been blessed to be a part of not one, but two awesome critique groups. I was more than a little heartbroken to leave my NJ group, good crit partners (and friends) are HARD to find! But before I even unpacked my boxes here in my new home, I sent a shout out to my local SCBWI listserv and immediately connected to another writer, who now is not just a writer bud, but a true friend. We started a group and BAM – the five of us have fashioned our own little writer family to support each other along the way. Just last week, I came to the meeting in a not very positive place. I was frustrated with a chapter I’d been revising and the whole process which sometimes seems to flow at a glacial pace for me. As I spilled my guts to people who could really understand where I was coming from, I felt lighter. I left the meeting…dare I say…happy? Ready to tackle revisions again. Throw in a cinnamon sugar bagel and coffee, and what more could you ask for?

Another person who I'm grateful to have met along my writing journey is my agent, Tamar Rydzinski. Having someone believe in my writing always gets me through those rough days I described above. And the gentle nudges now and then don't hurt either!

And last, but most definitely not least, I’m grateful for you Paper Waiters – for reading, commenting, being a part of this online community. It’s nice to be able to make connections through our writing! Happy Thanksgiving!

So, what part of your writing journey are you grateful for?

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Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Why Bears Sleep All Winter

Just received copies of the December HIGHLIGHTS with my story "Why Bears Sleep All Winter: A Tale from Lapland."

No, I have no ancestral family stories from Lapland. I found this charming story in a tattered second hand volume of Scandinavian folktales published decades ago. The moral of my discovery (ditto the folktale) is to do good works. I was volunteering at a church book sale when I pulled the volume from a dusty donation box.

I've always loved the how or why (pourquoi) stories. One of my favorites is the old African-American one called "Why Dogs Hate Cats." The story begins with dog and cat best of friends until the day they go to town and buy a big ham. On the hot, dusty road going home, they take turns carrying their prize dinner. When dog carries the ham, he always chants, "Our ham, our ham," but when cat carries the ham he always chants, "My ham, my ham." Well, you can see it coming - not far from home cat scrambles up a tree with the ham and eats it all. Dog declares, "I can't get you now, but when you come down out of that tree, I'm going to chase you 'til you drop."

What's your favorite folktale?

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Sunday, November 13, 2011

An Inspiring Author Visit

Recently I had the pleasure of attending a Suzy Kline author visit at the elementary school where I teach K-5 art. She is the bestselling author of the Herbie Jones and Horrible Harry chapter books.

Suzy opened with a greeting and then a disclaimer (paraphrased): If there's only one thing you remember from my presentation today, it is that I keep a notebook in my pocket wherever I go, and you should too!

Recently I had the pleasure of attending a Suzy Kline author visit at the elementary school where I teach K-5 art. She is the bestselling author of the Herbie Jones and Horrible Harry chapter books.

Suzy opened with a greeting and then a disclaimer (paraphrased): If there's only one thing you remember from my presentation today, it is that I keep a notebook in my pocket wherever I go, and you should too!

She shared how she jots down a sentence, phrase, or a few words in her notebook. Even one word can lead to a “seed” or idea for a new story. She shared stories from over 25 years as an elementary teacher and, with the help of a few props, showed how these “seeds” grew into whole characters in her books.

Suzy described her path as a writer and her long journey to being published. She displayed artifacts from laminated copies of childhood stories to her very first rejection letter from a publisher. With an impressive display of published books, Suzy illustrated how her persistence paid off. Suzy inspired the students to write, write, write and never give up!

With a little help from the faculty, including the principal, Suzy brought a scene from a Horrible Harry book alive with an impromptu dramatic performance. The students loved it!

Suzy did a phenomenal job of spreading her contagious enthusiasm for writing with the next generation of writers. At the end of the presentation, each student was given a small pocket notebook.

The least I could do was whip out my journal during my lunch break and jot a few things down. Thanks for the inspiration, Suzy!

Have any of you attended an author visit or illustrator presentation? What did you gain from it?

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Wednesday, November 9, 2011

A Time to Celebrate!

There are the blog posts where I question and the blog posts where I wonder. There are the blog posts where I doubt and the blog posts where I discover.

And then there are the blog posts where I... celebrate!

I love to celebrate!!!!

My book, "Where Do Diggers Sleep at Night?", has a cover! An adorable cover by the fabulous Christian Slade! I am so excited!!!! (I know, exclamation points are my weakness. I should use less of them, but I really am sooooo excited!!!!!)

It is amazing to see my words illustrated so beautifully. And, somehow, seeing my book's fantastic cover makes this whole "getting published" thing feel a bit more real.

Before I know it, it will be May 2012 and I will be holding an actual book in my hands.

Eek! I've got a website and some business cards to make before then!

So, thanks for celebrating with me! And now, back to work. It's time to revise another manuscript...

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Friday, November 4, 2011

What Kids Demand in a Novel

I came across an interesting article in the October 29 Weekend edition of the WSJ, by novelist, Maile Meloy, "What Kids Demand in a Novel." I've been asking myself this question for years.

The article answered this question. I have condensed the points she made:

1. Don't worry about what category the book belongs in. Just write it.
2. Don't write down. Kids read up.
3. When you do have to explain things, it can't feel like an explanation. Try to tell your story through mentors or other characters, preferably while "on the move."
4. Stuff has to happen. Right from the beginning. Kids are highly critical and they lose interest quickly.

Thank you Ms. Meloy. I'm keeping your list taped to my computer.

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Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Searching for Success

I'm a great believer in passion. I want to be passionate about what I write. And so far I have been. I can almost reach delusional about my characters, they become so real to me.

But what about marketability? Isn't that important, too? I'm not suggesting abandoning the passion and writing to trends, but a market tweak here and a trendy tweak there, might be the difference between publishing success and publishing silence.

I recently finished Nova Ren Suma's beautifully written Imaginary Girls. The family-based themes of parental distance and abandonment and sibling reverence and rivalry ring loud, clear and true. But the undercurrent of mystery and magical realism give this book a real twist. I'm certain the author was passionate about her characters, but by placing those characters in her magical world, she's done something really different. Something trendy? Maybe. But when wonderful characters, plus great writing, plus plot with a touch of trend, equals success, who can argue?

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Friday, October 28, 2011

Dateline: Kathmandu

Dateline: Kathmandu

On our flight from Paro, Bhutan to the Kathmandu airport we flew over Mount Everest,
which was lying just below us, thrusting through the clouds in snow laden sunny splendor. What a thrill to see the grand mountain.

In Kathmandu we visited ancient temples and especially enjoyed the restored Kathmandu Valley ancient city of Bhaktapur, with its many stupas, temples, formal buildings and wide squares and courtyards. Then we traveled out to the country and stayed at a lodge securely positioned on the side of a steep mountain where we overlooked the magnificent Annapurna peak. Early in the morning before the clouds descended we could see many of the snow covered mountains in this majestic range.At the end of the trip we stayed in a great lodge by the Chitwan Jungle Park where we rode elephants on a safari across a wide river into the jungle to see one horned rhinoceroses.

The magnificent scenery and animals were fabulous for all the travelers and for a writer. But for a children's writer the chance meetings we had with so many interesting people, especially children, were bonuses for possible story ideas.

Which fascinating person would come alive in a story for American children? Is it the young woman we met who told us her enthralling story of her dream to climb Mount Everest (which is the highest mountain in the world at 29,029 feet)?After much grueling training and much work obtaining sponsors for the climb, she finally reached the pinnacle, and became the first non-Sherpa woman from Nepal to successfully complete the climb.

Is it the funny and clever trio of small boys...

we met on the hillside on their way home from school dressed in their uniforms? Nepal's children are taught English beginning in first grade so these boys in third grade had quite good English (since we could not speak their language, Nepalese). They were full of beans and thrilled to chat with us. When asked if they had had multiplication yet they said "Sure!" "OK, what's 3 x 3 equal?" The middle fellow yells "Six!" "No!" we say. Then someone says "Times, not plus." "OH," he says "Nine!" They were funny and quick. Of course they requested sweets from us , which we had been advised not to give them, but we could give them pens and magic markers.

Or was it the manager of the restaurant tucked on the deep green mountain side who had his picture posted on the wall from Desert Storm when he had been with a Gokha military unit that provided security in far away Kuwait for American marines in a hot, dusty desert? The Gorkhas are the tribe from Nepal that served with the British army with distinction for many years.

Maybe it was the teenage girl in the traditional Gorkha village that we hiked to on one of our treks? Some of the older men had served with the British army and were now retired. Many of the young men work in the Gulf states and send good money home. Everyone dresses in traditional clothes, the women trim, slender and pretty in their long, narrow skirts. They all work hard on the steep slopes of the mountainside farms where terraces of rice, millet and vegetables are stacked down the mountain. Everyone meets you, including little children, with folded hands and the greeting, "Namaste." Just as we were leaving we passed a teenage girl who was dressed in clothes that would be stylish at any American high school. We said, "Hi. Namaste." She disdainfully looked at us with typical teen condescension and declined to answer.

Wonderful scenery, people and stories - it's hard to know which to focus on.

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Tuesday, October 25, 2011

The New Amazon Market

Amazon is publishing 122 books (electronic and print) this fall, and 'aggressively wooing' some top authors, reports The New York Times. The New Republic says “writers should embrace Amazon’s takeover of the publishing industry.”

While playing down Amazon’s market power in its newly assumed role as publisher in addition to retailer, one Amazon executive noted that “the only really necessary people in the publishing process now are the writer and the reader.” And Amazon?

Amazon Publishing is a new market opportunity for writers, and can be seen as a force for necessary change in the industry. Amazon’s willingness to share the Nielsen Bookscan sales data with authors has other publishers following suit.

On the other hand, concerns have arisen: will Amazon Publishing add editorial value or will it be a glorified vanity publisher, loosing an avalanche of slush pile dross? What about those ‘unnecessary’ people like agents and editors? What of books from traditional publishers sold through Amazon: could they be quietly buried on the site if they compete with Amazon's own titles?

To manage its group of six imprints Amazon has hired ‘well-regarded’ professionals including former agent and former CEO of Time Warner Book Group, Laurence Kirshbaum, and Ed Park, author of the ‘acclaimed novel’ Personal Days, and previously editor of The Believer and The Village Voice.

Several well-known authors are signing on, including self-help author Tim Ferriss and reportedly, actress and director Penny Marshall. Businessweek notes that thriller writer Barry Eisler, who turned down a $500,000 two-book deal with a traditional publisher earlier this year, later signed with Amazon. Eisler was swayed, at least in part, by Amazon’s ability to publish an e-book version and a paperback within a matter of days, both at cheaper prices than the traditional house’s practice of charging print prices for e-books. “What I care about is readers, because without readers I can’t make a living… If I can find a way to get readers books that cost less and are delivered better and faster, I want that.”

Sounds good, but what about less recognized authors? Will worthy authors, and in turn readers, get lost in a wave of low quality text? Will Amazon ensure the same credibility as traditional publishing houses?

What effect will Amazon's increasing dominance have on our industry?

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Saturday, October 22, 2011

Project Runway Writing Parallels

One of my favorite reality shows is Project Runway. If you’re not familiar with PR imagine the elevator pitch as this - Twelve unknown fashion designers vying for the chance to show at Mercedes Benz Fashion Week and win $100,000 to jumpstart their own line. Each week they are given challenges to create fresh, modern, fashion forward designs which are judged by a panel of experts. The culmination of each episode is the runway show, when we find who’s in and who’s out and who goes on to be in the final three (or four depending on how the fashion gods want to go that season) to compete at Mercedes Benz Fashion Week.

I’m drawn to this show for many reasons - the drama, the fashion, but mostly I love to see creative minds in action. It fascinates me how the designers can take seemingly ridiculous challenges – like fashioning a garment out of supplies from a pet store (photo above) – and produce such breathtaking results. They aren’t always breathtaking. Some are downright disastrous and often there are epic fails (which usually produce the most hysterical one-liners from designer Michael Kors.) These components are what make this such an exciting show to watch unfold.

So where are the parallels to writing?

High Stakes – what makes this show so dramatic – other than the multitude of creative personalities – is what’s at stake each week – design something amazing or you’re out. Throw in some crazy materials, time limitations and team members that don’t get along and it’s a recipe for compelling drama.

Apply these same principles to your writing – intense situations, offbeat characters that clash and high stakes which can alter your protagonists life depending on if they meet their goals or not will help you craft a page turner.

Think Outside the Box – When you are limited to buying your design supplies from Petland Discount you have no choice but to think outside the box. How to apply that to your writing?

On every page. In your descriptions…dialogue…plot line…characters. Anything that remotely speaks mundane – think of a way to change it up, make it fresh and ultimately make it yours! Your unique voice.

Don’t Design for the Judges – In every season there’s a designer or two the judges seem to have something against. No matter what they put on that runway, their vision just doesn’t connect with the experts. Inevitably there will be that episode where you’ll see the ill-fated designer struggling with the design because of what the judges told them and suddenly they are more worried about the opinion of the judges than fully fleshing out their design vision. May as well start packing up that sewing kit, dear.

Take out the word judges and put in…editor…agent…market and this easily applies to writing. While it’s important to have an eye on the market, or the wish list of an editor/agent, writing specifically to please someone else will almost always lead to flat, uninspired prose which in turn leads to frustration, rejection and a whole lotta chocolate. If you don’t connect to and/or love your writing, who else will?

Make it Work! – Tim Gunn’s trademark usually uttered after he gently talks a designer off the ledge. Said designer has either completely derailed or is standing with their hands in their hair surrounded by bolts of fabric they suddenly have no idea what to do with.

Ha…that’s me, during revision! This is the wisdom I find myself repeating as I go in and tackle revisions. There are times I feel like I’m so far off course that I want to just scrap it and there are times I feel so overwhelmed I’m ready to jump ship. But I don’t. I go in, apply some of the above and ultimately make it work! Or blow it big trying!

So what about you Paper Waiters? Any of these PR pearls of wisdom apply to you? Or have you found some writing advice in a not-so-typical place?

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Sunday, October 16, 2011


Dateline - Shangri-La

Haven't you always wanted to write dispatches from exotic places like Shangri-La? I was mentally composing this post/dispatch several weeks ago when traveling in Bhutan but wouldn't have been able to send it since wifi is intermittent in the mountains.

Shangri-La conjures up images of remote, snow capped mountains, deep valleys, and elusive monasteries cut off from the outside world where the inhabitants pursue lives of peaceful contemplation while achieving great longevity due to the special air of the valley. Hilton's novel, LOST HORIZONS, set in the Himalayan kingdom of Tibet of the 1930's, gave us all this image of harmony and tranquility and a sense of adventure to search out such exotic places.

Bhutan, another Himalayan kingdom, is indeed lovely. The nation had been cut off from the rest of the world for several centuries and just opened again about thirty yeas ago and is gradually letting in tourists. What a privilege to visit this land of soaring Himalayan mountains and steep sided gorges and valleys.

We did visit ancient monasteries where Buddhist monks continue the traditions of contemplation and education of younger monks. We hiked to several monasteries, up mountains sides, where the clouds were truly below us. The traditional architecture was fascinating, scenery spectacular and the people lovely.

All the time, while gasping for breath while climbing, or from the incredible views spreading before us, the writer within was commenting - wow! How to describe this magnificent place and civilization and bring it home to children?

I did start a new PB set in Bhutan and am trying to tie in the many threads of Bhutanese life that we witnessed and that will bring the story to life effectively. I have a definite plot, a great setting and a spunky MC, so now I need to work on crafting the text.

What travels - local or distant - have given you inspiration this year?

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Thursday, October 13, 2011

First Page Session

The day of the SCBWI First Page Session had arrived. I laid the first page of my picture book manuscript on the long table with 34 others. It would be the first time it was read aloud in front of an audience and editors. I picked up my packet of manuscripts and took my seat. It was time to begin.

A volunteer read the first page of picture books, chapter books, and middle grade and young adult fiction. Two editors would then give their critiques.

Some manuscripts were funny, clever, and made the audience laugh out loud. Others were long-winded, awkward, and confusing. I wondered to whom each one belonged.

I looked around the room at the anonymous authors. I caught small glimpses of each person's life- their interests, sense of humor, dreams, and experiences. Their voices or the voices of people they know (real or imaginary)- filled the room.

As the reading continued, I tried not to be distracted by my anticipation. It was difficult. I flipped forward in the packet. My story was next!

The volunteer introduced my picture book. She read the story quickly, while I looked up to gauge the editors' responses. What did they think? They critiqued my work, and in less than two minutes, it was over.

I wanted to call out, “Wait!” I still had so many questions.

The beginning was rushed, the editors said. There wasn't enough passage of time during the character's journey. The title was bland.

But the editors also said it was a story/topic that children would relate to. It included strong writing with good rhythm and repetition. It had a real “picture book feel”.

On my drive home, I could have been inspired by the editors' positive comments. Instead, I thought of the other manuscripts. The ones that were funny, intriguing, memorable. The ones that stirred up personal memories in the editors. The ones they wanted to read more of. Why hadn't I written one of those?

A strong trait of any editor, writer, or artist is to see potential in a work. Michaelangelo said it best: “In every block of marble I see a statue as plain as though it stood before me, shaped and perfect in attitude and in action. I have only to hew away the rough walls that imprison the lovely apparition to reveal it to the other eyes as mine see it.”

My picture book may have thick, rough walls around it, but tools in hand, I'm ready to start carving!

Have you participated in a First Page Session? Was it a good or bad experience?

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Saturday, October 8, 2011

What Writing Has in Common with a Cross Country Move

For the past several weeks, I have been overwhelmed with moving trucks and cardboard boxes. Our family's cross country move is very exciting, but it has also managed to turn my entire life upside down.

That got me thinking. Do moving and writing have anything in common?

And I managed to find several similarities...
Similarity #1-- That frustrating period when you feel you should be done, but you're not! There is still unpacking and setting up and finding doctors to do. Or, in the case of writing, revising and revising and revising to do. (Oh how I want the manuscript-- or the move-- to be done, but it's not!)

Similarity #2-- Both are more work than anybody can possibly understand who isn't doing it or hasn't done it before. I would never have imagined how insane it would be to pack up the lives and possessions of four people and move them to the other side of the country. Not until I started doing it. Similarly, people who don't write have no understanding of how challenging, frustrating and exciting the process can be.

Similarity #3-- Finally, I realized that making a move is all about making a really big change. And, whenever I make a change, my writing travels in exciting new directions. When I started to learn the cello, I didn't become a great musician, but I did end up writing a collection of poems about a girl who played the cello. And when I made my biggest change-- having children-- I learned all about trucks and ended up writing what will be my first published book, "Where Do Diggers Sleep at Night?".

So in the midst of my remaining bits of chaos, I wonder: What new interests might come from this cross country move? And what writing projects might emerge from these new interests?

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Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Elements of Style

Recently I picked up William Strunk's Elements of Style. I had not looked at it in years, and I was struck by its relevance. Admidst the verbal anarchy of email and the blogosphere, this book provides an oasis of clarity. In 71 pages, Strunk dismisses the pompous, the passive and the indefinite.

On page 14 "There were a great number of dead leaves lying on the ground" becomes "Dead leaves covered the ground." On Page 15, "A period of unfavorable weather set in," becomes "It rained every day for a week." And on page 35, "In many cases, the rooms were poorly ventilated, " becomes "Many of the rooms were poorly ventilated."

Mr. Strunk, a friend and teacher of E.B. White, wrote, "Vigorous writing is concise. A sentence should contain no unnecessary words, a paragraph no unnecessary sentences, for the same reason that a drawing should have no unnecessary lines and a machine no unnecesary parts. This requires not that the writer make all his sentences short, or that he avoid all detail and treat his subjects only in outline, but that every word tell.

All writers should read and reread this little book.

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Sunday, October 2, 2011

Sh%#@y First Drafts Are Like Dating

We all write them.

Okay. Full disclosure. I just wrote, "We all right them," and had to delete and rewrite my first line. It was as if my brain wanted to help me prove my point.

Now I know the difference between write and right. I also know the difference between a sh%#@y first draft, a better second draft, and a good third draft. And I know how to keep going until one draft feels just right.

It took some time for me to get to this point. I wrote my first novel chapter by chapter -- rewriting and reworking each chapter many times before moving on. I didn't have the confidence to write a sh%#@y first draft. I thought I needed a really strong sense of every plot line, every character, every setting and sensory detail before I moved on.

I was wrong.

Now when I write a first draft, I look at it like dating. That first draft is just to get to know your characters. Having a main plot line and a few subplots helps, but even if you trash your plot, but you got to know your characters really well, that sh%#@y first draft served its purpose. If you know your characters, you can put them in any situation and their dialogue and reactions will ring true.

The second draft, well, that's sort of like an engagement. You're making plans together, testing the waters, maybe having a fight or two. You're adding tension to that relationship.

By the third draft you're a newlywed. Everything is all sparkly. Sigh.

Every draft after that adds the grit of little details. The toilet seat is up. Somebody has to take the dog out in the rain. There is no clean underwear.

When you finally reach the point in your manuscript marriage when everything feels just right, it's time to submit...

And start looking about for the next batch of characters to fall in love with.

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Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Inspiration . . . Frustration, Chapter II

Chapter two of my August 16th post "Inspiration . . . Frustration." I struggled with my idea until one day, while vacationing in Maine, inspiration trumped frustration. I was off on a writing binge. In three days (and fairly sleepless nights) I had a first draft. In six days I had a story. The next week, things took a surprising turn.

Back story: a few months ago, I signed up for a writing conference and submitted a manuscript for critique with an editor. Conference day arrived and on a whim, I slipped a copy of the new truck story into my folder to take with me.

The critique session was cordial and useful. The editor said the manuscript I had submitted had a "fun, bouncy text perfect for toddlers," but was "a little slight" (that hated word) and needed more tension and depth. I agreed with her suggestions.

Five minutes left. I asked if she would be willing to scan my newest work and handed it over. Her expression changed as she read. Then she asked if she could take the story with her because she would like to take it to an acquisition meeting!

Have no idea when I will hear, but when I do, I'll write chapter three of "Inspiration . . . Frustration."

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Saturday, September 24, 2011

Blood Circle

Boys and knives are a dangerous combination. When a hundred rambunctious young boys descend upon scout camp, all looking to ‘whittle’, managing pocketknife safety is critical. Safety however, is not what boys want to talk about.

How about a Blood Circle?

Oh yes – the boys want to talk about that.

When my eight-year-old son came home excited about his blood circle, I put my younger daughter behind me for safety. Was he planning on drawing one on his little sister? I scanned his arms for scrapes and bandages.

When he saw my reaction, my son said, “Maybe it should have been ‘Safety Circle’ Mom.”

Hmm… ‘safety’ sounded generic, politically correct and parental.

“Look Mom.” He held his closed pocketknife in an outstretched arm. Turning around slowly, his arm traced a radius around his body. “This is my Blood Circle. No one is allowed inside my Blood Circle while I’m whittling, carving, or anything.”

As a writer, I have to avoid the safety circle. But a blood circle – that I can use.
This two-word description is immediately colorful, evocative, and memorable.

As a mom, I wondered if it was appropriate. Then I watched as it helped change my childrens’ behavior. After hearing blood circle, my son was very responsible with his pocketknife. My five-year-old backed up and carefully avoided the ‘knife danger zone.’

I’ll be looking for a place to use ‘blood circle’ in my stories, and I’ll use it as a measuring stick for my own descriptions.

What are some of your favorite and most memorable descriptions?

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Tuesday, September 20, 2011 ongoing practice

In Yoga, detachment is the practice of withdrawing the senses from stimulation. This works on many levels. At most basic – for instance closing your eyes – it allows you to go deeper within yourself and simply be a witness to your body in the pose. Not to judge, or compare yourself to your neighbor whose bakasana defies the laws of gravity, but to let the pose come naturally into your body all the while accepting, even embracing, your limitations. On a bigger picture level, it’s about relinquishing control. Not giving a person, place or thing so much importance that when your desires aren’t met it causes you suffering.

Ah, about that bigger picture stuff…

In writing, at least for me, detachment means letting go of desired outcomes. Easy? Um, no. I’ve been struggling with revision – and by struggling I mean completely paralyzed with fear about going back into my manuscript and making changes. Maybe it’s that I hypnotized myself into believing that my first draft was actually a finished novel (HA!). Maybe it’s that once I start playing and picking and killing my darlings I’m worried the whole thing will unravel and I’ll be left with…nothing. Whatever it is, I’ve been avoiding my 3 ring binder like it’s going to grow teeth and devour me.


Because I have absolutely no control over the million dollar question…will my work be picked up by a publisher? And if not, are the hours, days, weeks, months, even years I put into a project worth it?

This is where I’m trying like hell to practice detachment. My writing has brought so many wonderful experiences and people into my life but I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t hoping and ultimately working toward having something more concrete to show for it. There’s no secret handshake, no list of steps that will ultimately lead you to that book (or books) on the shelf with your name on it. There’s hard work and more hard work. And absolutely no guarantees. Why, oh, why do any of us pursue this?

I’m not sure I have a simple answer to that. And that’s okay. So for now, all I can do is take a breath, close my eyes (momentarily at least) and open that 3 ring binder to begin yet another journey along my writing path. Not worrying about the outcome, but focusing on writing the best book I can.

How about you? What keeps you going on your writing journey?

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Saturday, September 17, 2011

After the Flood

Like many New Jerseyans, our house took some direct hits from Irene and Lee. After living with a completely dry, finished basement for the last 12 years, this time, it flooded twice and then our ceiling leaked, and our finished basement became finished in the other sense of the word. As in, kaput. Granted, we didn't suffer one iota as much as the folks in the hardest hits parts of the state, like Cranford (see Eileen's post, below) or Paterson. My heart goes out to the people in those areas, and, considering the complete devastation of their homes and belongings, I can't really complain. Relatively speaking, losing our basement wasn't so bad.

Still, I lost something in the flood that, as a writer of children's books, makes me awfully sad. I lost most of my longstanding collection of children's books. I have...make that, had...hundreds, maybe thousands of books. I'd been collecting them for decades, since I was a kid. My own kids have added reams of new titles to that collection every year. Three days post-storm, I got home from being stranded in Colorado to find them soaking wet and soiled, ruined. I'm not talking about them being ruined by the clear, Poland Springs-kind of water, I'm talking about the brown, smelly, yucky kind. These books clearly had to be tossed.

So lately, I've been throwing out everything from Rick Riordan to Carolyn Keene. So long, Caps for Sale. Nice reading you, Polar Express. Unwind, Artemis Fowl, The Thief Lord, all gone.

It is a drag. On the other hand, ruined book collections can be rebuilt, for the most part. As for ruined homes and lives, it's not so easy. My thoughts turn to those folks now. I wish them all a speedy recovery, and lots of financial aid from FEMA!

Paper Waiters, did Irene and/or Lee affect any of you, too, from a children's book writer's perspective?

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Monday, September 12, 2011

Robert McCloskey

Just finished reading ROBERT McCLOSKEY: A PRIVATE LIFE IN WORDS AND PICTURES, by his younger daughter Jane. It’s an engaging read about the family, their pleasures, troubles and travels. The illustrations are not only from his books, but also his watercolors and paintings of family members and scenes of the various places they lived. Jane and her older sister, Sally (of Blueberries for Sal), spent childhood time on their Maine island, in New York, Mexico and at a private school in Switzerland.

I do wish Jane had written more about her father’s writing process – for example, how long did he work on some of the books? However, she points out he was a very “private and shy man,” and much of her “understanding” came from “detective work, watching him and thinking about him and what he said and didn’t say.”

Miscellaneous facts from the book:

1. The children called him Bob. He did not like to be called Dad.
2. McCloskey suffered with depression, had a nervous breakdown and spent time in a sanitarium.
3. There was a real Burt Dow and his tombstone reads: Burt Dow, Deep Water Man.
4. McCloskey worked a long time on puppets for a TV show, but they were never used.
5. There was a Robert J. McCloskey (State Department – Intelligence) who occasionally received fan mail for the author. The book has photocopies of a humorous exchange about this.
6. And finally: when people approached him saying they had a great idea for a children’s book they wanted to write, his reply was, “Don’t talk about it. Do it.”

Great advice.

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Sunday, September 4, 2011

Step by Step

Having read the rave reviews, I saw the movie "The Debt" this weekend. The acting was good. Still, the final scene happened too was too coincidental, leaving me with the feeling a crucial step had been omitted. Film directors can get away with this. In films the action is rapid. The viewer's visual senses are fully engaged. When something happens that the viewer doesn't understand, he passes it off to inattentiveness.

The writer doesn't have this luxury. Everything has to add up, because the reader can flip back and check the sequence of events. Well, yes, you can play a film back, but you are less likely to do this. In the book I'm currently reading, the protagonist stops and puzzles over something someone said that will give him a clue to the killer. I went back and found the reference. I don't understand it yet, and at this point in the novel, neither does the protagonist. We're both waiting to see what it means.

A key to good writing: Take it step by step. No rushes to the finish.

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Friday, September 2, 2011

Setting, too, Can Change in an Instant

My Internet came back on about thirty minutes ago, after being down for days. Our phone is back, too. We only lost power for two days. And the television no longer blips every ten seconds. We were lucky that's all we lost.

Not everyone else was.

I grew up in Cranford, NJ. In my latest WIP, the town is called Crestview, but as I wrote every scene, my writer's eye saw Cranford. So you know those writer's tricks? The ones where you're stumped, have a bit of writer's block, so you throw an unexpected event in there to shake up your writing -- shake up your characters? Hurricane Irene really shook up my setting.

I was in Cranford on Tuesday, helping dear friends who live near the river. Tuesday was a gorgeous day -- brilliant blue sky and low humidity. I drove in to town from the parkway. Everything looked as I had remembered it. Sure, there was a couch at the curb here and piled up carpet there, but everything looked fairly normal until you got near the river. Then, every street was fronted with furniture from driveway to driveway. The entire town smelled like mud.

I can't say I thought about my writing then. I didn't. I thought about my friends and their neighbors. But now, as I polish my manuscript and get it ready to send to my agent, I'm reminded how important setting is to every story. Seeing my setting shaken on its head made me want to get those little details right. Because sometimes the smallest detail tells an entire story.

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Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Whoops !

Whoops !

Forgot to post on the 28th! Instead of thinking about the writing process and composing a post I was in the basement controlling the water running like an open faucet, (still am in full combat against the running water, brooming it into the u drain, trying to stay ahead of it), calling the plumber and mason, the tree company for the tree over the driveway and checking out the other storm tossed debris which abounds. At least we are lucky to have power, having lost it only for 20 hours. There are still people in town here with no electricity and therefore no water, and roads still closed and flooding in some places.

But as I push water and clean up from Irene I know that here is a new story here somewhere. Of course, the classic book on experiencing a hurricane for children is the wonderful and honored TIME OF WONDER set on an island in Maine when some weather was acoming!

When I finally finish the cleanup I will sit down and start writing a storm story!What are some of your hurricane experiences and what do you think you might use in your writing from this experience?

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Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Five Fools Revealed

My retold English folktale "Five Foolish Brothers" appears in the August issue of HIGHLIGHTS.

I enjoyed finding a new way to portray the problems of these thickheaded siblings. Love those noodlehead stories! No wonder they've lasted for centuries.

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Monday, August 22, 2011

What Quotes Inspire Your writing?

It has been a summer of visitors for me and I'm enjoying showing them my adopted home town of Charlotte. On a recent visit uptown we passed the main branch of the public library and it's covered in great quotes about books and writing. I could have spent a good hour reading and reflecting on each one much to my party's dismay. (In their defense, we were on our way to dinner!) I did have the chance to snap a quick picture of the above quote by Helen Hayes. And while it's more about books than writing, reading that helped me connect to why I write in the first place.

There are times I get truly discouraged with this business. I know, who doesn't? But looking at quotes from those who have been there, done that, often feels like taking a quick sip of Red Bull for the writer soul. Something that jolts me, makes me remember why I love to write. At the risk of sounding corny...writing gives me wings. And if I’m able to help someone else take flight, get them away from their lives and troubles for a moment, entertain or make them reflect, I can’t think of a better way to spend my time.

So how about you? Any quotes inspire you as a writer?

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Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Inspiration . . . Frustration!

Here's my mental picture prompt: a three-year-old boy's bed so loaded with toy trucks ( scads more than six ) there's no room for a child. Yet somehow he manages to sleep in that bed every night. What happens at night with the boy and the trucks on that bed/highway lit by a nightlight?

Must be a story there.

But where and what? I've been struggling with this story idea for two weeks. I've made a list of different kinds of trucks and given each a number of adjectives and sounds. I've jotted down possible relationships between them. I've tried to create a plot with a problem that's solved by the boy and the trucks working together.

And my results so far? A couple of weak, pedestrian stanzas. I'm stuck! (And I doubt changing my venue, as J.L. suggested in the previous post, would help.)

This was to have been a submission to the current Children's Writer contest for poetry or a verse story. I'm about to toss out hours of thought. On to the next idea.

Don't you hate it when this happens?

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Friday, August 12, 2011

I Need to Live Away from Home

Greetings from Cape Cod. There's a bluebird sky, the beach is just across the way, and my head feels clearer than it has all year. It's a perfect time to write or just ideate, as my friend Josh calls it. Give me a notebook, a pen, and a beach chair--the Cape is my laptop-free zone--and I'm more productive as a writer than I am on too many days at home.

At home, between work and kid-rearing, life is so scheduled, so damn busy, I'm always fighting a necessary slew of distractions, just like you, I'll bet. But on vacation, I have the time, and feel the inner peace I need to really think. Frankly, I wish my entire life could be one long vacation, that I could live away from home. Then I'd be enviably productive and prolific, or so I like to think. But I guess that's impossible, an oxymoron.

When I get home, what I need to do is find a good go-to place, so I can keep this writing momentum going. I've never been able to do this. The local library is too noisy. Starbucks is too noisy. I practically need a vacuum-sealed environment, to shut everything out, and that's hard to find, especially in the New York-metro area. But where to go?

Hey, Papers Waiters, if anyone out there has found a good writing haven, could you please let me know? I'm not looking for the exact location--no hostile takeovers intended!--but a general idea that's not a lending library or an espresso bar.

For now, it's back to the beach, pen in hand. I hope you're all enjoying some sea air and big word counts this summer. Cheers.

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Tuesday, August 9, 2011

No Longer Alone

Once upon a time, I wrote alone.

With the help of a few books (including my trusty CWIM), I drafted picture books, chapter books and short stories. Eagerly I sent them off into the world.

They boomeranged back, rejections.

Then I found ways to join a community...

I joined SCBWI.
I attended conferences.
I learned from online children's writing board communities (including the awesome "Blueboards", fellow kidlit bloggers and Twitter).
And I found my awesome critique group!

This community helped me to understand so much more about how to write for children. Manuscripts no longer boomeranged back. There were "good rejections" and acceptances. My work was published in magazines. I signed with my awesome agent! I signed my first picture book contract!

I don't believe any of these successes would have happened without the wonderful, supportive community I have been blessed to find through the years.

To my fellow Paper Waiters, thank you!!! You have each helped me to grow so much! I will miss you so much as I move across the country. You are such a special group!!! (And I am so glad that I can remain in touch with each of you through the online community that is our blog!)

And for our awesome Paper Wait readers, what communities have helped you to grow as a writer?

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Thursday, August 4, 2011

Tell Me A Story!

The common advice for writers today, at least for writers of children's literature, is to keep the plot going, action packed, use as little description as possible, and damn the adverbs and adjectives. Voice must be close third or first person. Any hint of an omnicient storyteller is deadly. Why? Writers are in competition with the visual images of TV, movies, internet games and all forms of visual stimulation. The quiet rhythms of words are no longer enough.

Eudora Welty learned her craft as a child by creeping under the dining room table and listening to the adults talk. Jane Austen paid close attention to the music of conversation. And in multiple books and short stories, Mark Twain imitated the language of the streets, camps and polite society laced with his own sardonic observations. Their readers "listened" as they read.

I thought of this a great deal recently as I watched two young boys at play, constructing stories of their own with a large village of old blocks and ancient toys. Now, at the age of nine, will they ask their parents to "read me a story?" or will the siren call of the TV screen beckon? Will coming generations lose the ability to picture things in their mind even as the written word unfolds before them?

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Monday, August 1, 2011

Raising the Stakes

I'm getting close to the finish line. Yes, that finish line. The one where you get to type "the end" finish line. And for me, this may be the hardest part of writing.

I write realistic fiction. No vampires or zombies attacking. The world isn't ending. No need to try to figure out who done it. (Not that there's anything wrong with that! I'm a sucker for a blood-sucking or spattering, a huge fan of dystopian, and love a smoking gun.)

But I write realistic, contemporary fiction. And as I near the end of a novel, I know I need to raise the stakes, up the ante, make my main character suffer.

I'm set with the final crisis, the one that makes the world crash in, but I needed to come up with the final turning point -- that part in the story where the main character thinks it can't get worse than this (oh, what he doesn't know!). I've been pondering this for weeks. Nothing seemed big enough. I was drawing blanks. So I turned to my bookshelves, scanning books on writing, looking for some help. And all I can say is, thank you Donald Maass!

I read through his chapter on Turning Points in his Writing the Breakout Novel Workbook. Maass uses some great examples of deep emotion as turning points. Addie, in Jodi Picoult's Salem Falls finally taking the sheets off her dead daughter's bed and saying goodbye as the fresh scent of Tide rises from the washing machine. In The Lovely Bones, Susie Salmon's father, unable to contain his grief and rage, smashes his collection of ships in bottles.

So now, as I work through this final turning point of my WIP, I'm focused on my main character's emotional arc -- I'm finding his reactions don't have to be extreme, but he does need to react and his emotions must be more volatile that ever before.

He has to suffer, but thanks to reminders from Donald Maass, his fictional suffering can put an end to my writer's block.

Here's to chasing away writer's block! Cheers!

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Thursday, July 28, 2011

Flowing Like a River

Looking out across the flowing and majestic Hudson River from the vantage point of Revolutionary War site Fort Montgomery by Bear Mountain the other day, I began to envision the people who lived and fought here coming alive again in new books for children. Books for children from PBs through early readers, chapter books, to YA, focus on American historical events and the participants. The stories are exciting for the reader as story as well as demonstrating how each small part played in an historical event is essential to the entire event being successful, whether the MC is the general or a young girl who rides her horse through the night to warn local patriots of danger. Children learn that each person's part is important to the whole. The Hudson Valley has many individual stories as does New Jersey, (the Crossroads of the Revolution), New York, Philadelphia,(where there are numerous stories of children who aided the cause), and of course New England and southern states such as Virginia.

To visit Fort Montgomery on a beautiful sun filled day or Lexington and Concord or the sea coast of Connecticut in the pleasure of a summer afternoon may not give the effect of patriots struggling through a bitter cold winter or wet spring, but it does start the ideas and research in motion to begin another book.

Often our summer travels are closer to home such as to the local produce farm or the city park and spawn great story plots. Visiting the Hudson Valley may not be terribly exotic but it was productive. Some of our writers have had fascinating trips. Judy of this blog gets first prize for gathering research for her novel while gazing out on the rolling hills of Tuscany and Gale gets second for writing while looking out over the sea from the coast of Maine. Another member is visiting a lovely harbor in Ireland and perhaps there is a story waiting there. But where we writers are there will be new ideas flowing with memorable characters in different settings with unique stories.

What book/plot ideas have you discovered during your summer travels?

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Sunday, July 24, 2011

Words Soaring Overhead

Sometimes I am so entrenched in mothering-mode, I forget that I’m a writer.

At yet another flag-rugby practice, my daughter chatted happily to a teammate. The coach called out familiar instructions: “Stay in your lane. Move forward. Pass backwards!” At six feet plus, he towered above the children and his words soared over their heads.

I sympathized with the coach. Fifteen five-year-olds moved in thirty directions as he tried to line them up. Why couldn’t they listen?

As a mother, I was mildly bored and glad that I was not in charge. The children were not my problem. Then I remembered: my motherly boredom translated to a writing opportunity. I watched the scene from my child’s perspective.

My daughter pointed at a newly acquired, glittery turtle tattoo on her arm. A teammate reached out to touch it. The teammate told a joke while jumping in place, making my daughter’s smile wide enough to display the gap of her missing bottom teeth.

“Line up!” her coach shouted to everyone. “Stay in your lane!”

Her new friend wasn’t talking to everyone. He was talking to her.

She was listening. My daughter followed her bouncing friend, turning her back toward the coach. Her giggle made me want to hear her friend’s commentary.

Of course children listen – to what’s important to them. What was more important than a new friend? Certainly not lanes.

My grown-up brain forgets, focusing on important things like instilling approved behavior. As a mother, I often lose my objectivity. As an author, I can’t do that.

It is I who must listen, to instill an authentic voice and a child’s perspective in my work. If I stay tuned in to what’s important, maybe readers will stay tuned in to my writing. Maybe even my children will listen to me…

Do you ever tune out? How do you stay tuned in to the world of children?

(p.s. Though it required the coach’s hand on her shoulder, she did eventually line up, and zig-zagged after the ball. Lanes are hard to learn!)

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Thursday, July 21, 2011

So...Have You Seen IT Yet?

If you don't know what IT I'm talking about maybe you've been blasted into space for the past ten years, but somehow The Boy Who Lived has probably made his presence known through the whole universe anyhow. I'm talking about Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows...part 2...otherwise known as THE END. I just got in from seeing it. Yep, a couple of days after the opening. While I was really excited about it, and quite frankly exasperated by the ending of part one last November (I have to wait until WHEN?!) I didn't run to the theater at midnight on opening day. I wanted to wait. To savor the anticipation a little longer.

Well, and after all, since I read JK Rowling's amazing books I KNEW how it all turned out. But would it live up to my own imagination? In the words of a fellow movie goer...

"It was so #$*@ing good!"

I kid you not. I didn't quite exclaim that out loud, but I thought it. As good as my imagination? Hmm...jury's still out.

I'm a fan of BOTH the books and the movies and completely get why some storylines would need to be cut out. The Potter books are so chock full of incredible details and various plot threads that there would be no way they could fit into a 2 1/2 hour movie. I often wonder though, if I would have enjoyed the movies as much as I did without having first read the books?

My favorite character/plot line/arc - whatever you want to call it - was Severus Snape's. (And yes,I think Alan Rickman helped that a bit too.) I always had the sense, even in the first book, there was more to him than a hateful Potions Master. And his big reveal in Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows did not fail to disappoint. Simply brilliant. In all honesty I would have been really upset if it was somehow left out of the last movie. Spoiler alert: It's not! But did it live up to the flashback in my imagination? Nope. This was one detail I wondered if I would have completely understood if I hadn't read the books. Not that it's glossed over in the movie, but the whole of Snape's relationship/friendship with Lily (Evans) Potter is done in a fairly quick flashback - cut up in such a way it was a little hard to comprehend, even for someone who read the book.

The least they could have done was get a little red-haired girl with, um...Harry's eye color to play young Lily!! (in the books HP's eyes are green, in the movie Daniel Radcliffe has blue eyes, young Lily Evans in the movie has eyes...huh? But in all the books/movies they play up the fact that Harry has his mother's eyes...hello, CASTING?) Since Lily's eyes are almost a character unto their own in the books, I felt like this was something they completely missed. Minor, I now...but as a fan of that part of the story, well it ticked me off.


It was so $#%&ing good!

How about you? Have you seen it? What did you think? Good adaptation? Or not worth your popcorn money?

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Saturday, July 16, 2011

Reading Faster to Find Out!

The new novel by Geraldine Brooks, CALEB'S CROSSING, is set primarily on Martha’s Vineyard and in Cambridge, MA., during the 17th century.

Bethia Mayfield, the protagonist, is an intelligent, thoughtful, restless spirit. She and a native Indian boy defy society’s norms by secretly becoming close friends.

The first portion of the book takes place in 1660. When Bethia’s mother dies in childbirth, she must raise the infant, Solace, in addition to the usual household chores. But she escapes the household drudgery occasionally to enjoy the beauty of the island she loves with its “briny air, its ever changing light . . . the clean and glassy breakers breaking on the sands, the clay cliffs flaring russet and purple each sunset.”

The second section of the book begins in 1661, only one year later, but the reader is immediately dismayed at the change in Bethia’s life. What happened? Where is her sister Solace? Her father?

She’s living in Cambridge, with the “flat fens and dung-strewn pastures” surrounding an “unlovely town” with houses “pressed tight together on narrow lots that have formed a barrier to the drainage of the land behind, so that in foul weather all turns swamp and mire.”
“Since the townsfolk do not trouble where they tip their slops, the air reeks, and everywhere the middens rise, rotting in steaming piles of clutter and muck. The creek is brackish . . . since the town uses it as a drain.”

In this detestable atmosphere, Bethia’s now both cook and housekeeper to Master Corlett’s boy students. I read faster and faster to find out why. I had to wait thirty-two pages to find out about her sister Solace. And forty-four pages to find out what happened to her father and why she's now an indentured servant.

Geraldine Brooks played with my curiosity, but I kept reading. Does the author risk losing readers by withholding information too long? When does this trick work? When does it fail?

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Tuesday, July 12, 2011

I Swear, It's Funny

In my June 17th post, Why the ___ Didn’t I Write That Book First?, about Adam Mansbach’s bestseller, Go the F___ to Sleep, I ended with the question, What kind of spinoffs would you guess are in the works?

Flipping through last week’s The New Yorker, I came across a hysterical cartoon by Barry Blitt that answered the same question. Did anyone else see it? If you have a subscription but missed the cartoon, it’s on page 40 of the July 4, 2011, issue. It’s also archived on the website.

Since I don’t have permission to reprint it, here’s the gist of it: The cartoon, titled “Not Suitable for Kids Books,” features mock book covers with titles like, “You’ll Never _________ Amount to Anything, Just Like Me,” What part of ___ ______ __________ _____ ______ don’t you understand?” and my favorite, “Why the _____can’t you be more like your brother?”

Check it out. It’s a guaranteed giggle, which seems a good idea on this maddeningly hot day. (It’s 90-something in New Jersey.) Cheers.

p.s. This just in. Someone tweeted the cartoon. Google "twitpic more books in the go the fuck to sleep series" and you'll find the link. The Anthony Weiner joke is a side-splitter.

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Friday, July 8, 2011

It's a Matter of Trust

Recently, I began reading a mystery by one of my favorite "grown-up" mystery writers. The opening pages began with a chase scene.

I do not like chase scenes. I especially do not like them at the start of a book when I don't know the characters or their situation. Usually, these types of scenes at the beginning of a novel make me put a book down.

But this time I did not put my book down. I paid careful attention and waited for the story to make sense. Soon it did. Within a few pages it took off and it was quickly up to my favorite author's usual high standards.

This whole experience made me think about how much of writing is about trust.

Every time we write a book or a story, we must gain the trust of our readers. If an author has written many successful books, readers may give that author a bit more of a chance. Trust has already been established, just by the author's name. But, for the rest of us, every chapter, every scene, every word we write is critical to establishing that trust.

This made me think about First Page sessions and why that first page is so very, very critical How can I gain the trust of a reader with my very first words so that reader totally and completely enters the world I am trying to create?

Yes. It's all a matter of trust. Hopefully my stories are up to the challenge!

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Monday, July 4, 2011

Happy Fourth!

Despite political and economic challenges, one American institution still remains a source of hope: The American educational system. It needs improvement. It is not fairly distributed. Some students work much harder and longer than others to obtain a college degree. But higher education remains available to all.

A recent incident underlined this. In researching an ancestor, Thomas Wickham, who arrived in America from England around 1640 and made his way to Wethersfield, CT, I found that an incredible amount of research has been already been done on him, some of it as early as 1852 and some centuries earlier. Why?

He was a Puritan wool merchant. His wife ran a school for girls. They raised seven children. Neither Thomas Wickham nor his descendants were particularly important. None signed the Declaration of Independence. None ever held high office or discovered anything.

In trying to find an answer, I found many researchers had tried to link him to the family of William of Wykeham, born in 1324, 300 years before Thomas. Wykeham, a powerful man, was Bishop of Winchester, twice Lord Chancellor of England, as well as founder of New College at Oxford. 19th century American wanted the link for the novelty. But 15th century and 16th Englishmen wanted a blood link for the political and social clout it carried. Why? Because then, college matriculation required a pedigree.

I'm not sure I or anyone will ever prove a link to the more famous Wykehams, even given the newly digitized information available. Most likely, Thomas Wickham, like so many others, left England because he had no claims to a title, and therefore no opportunities in England. He came to America where slowly, higher education became a possibility for all. No pedigree necessary. Happy Fourth!

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Friday, July 1, 2011

Viva Research!

Sometimes research is the best part of the process. Especially if it takes you to Italy.

I'm writing this post from a gorgeous agriturismo about 30 kilometers south of Florence. It's the same path my MC travels in my WIP. While I could have written the scenes without actually traveling here, I'm certain those scenes will have greater authenticity because of this trip.

I walked the path my MC walks. I visited the train station my character uses. I took lots of pictures.

And, oh, I drank lots of wine. In fact, I may go open another bottle right now.

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Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Settings and Seasons

Screech! A red wing black bird darts agitatedly from the hedge, anxious to guard his nest of babies. Plop! A turtle quietly but quickly submerges in the pond, leaving only ripples behind.

Early summer scenes of nature are wonderful inspirations for a writer and are just over at the local county park. Because I write nonfiction for children and also use nature in fiction picture books, these sightings set up possible book subjects for me. How different the setting is at this same park in the depths of winter when the summer birds have flown south leaving only the winter birds to find some comfort from the cold, and when the pond is frozen over and the turtles sleep deep beneath the rim.

Same location - different setting - for a different approach to a book topic.

Different or unique settings can be close at hand like the local park, or merely your city apartment window, where you can watch the effects of the long light of summer or the shortened light of winter. And a writer can travel to all points in the country to find phenomenal settings of nature like our grand, deep canyons or towering mountains, or across the globe to find exotic sites of wonder - in all the seasons.

Currently my son is traveling in Asia and has sent back photos of surfing in Bali, Angkor Wat at sunrise, and the turquoise waters of Thai beaches. The wonders of nature - in fabulous settings. How great to experience them!

Once home from the park or abroad, writers get to work, listing and reviewing the new ideas which I personally really appreciate being lucky enough to discover. After sorting and analyzing, I start, with great excitement, the construction of a new story - having found the setting and season, and planning characters and plot around them.

Actually, it's fun! Where do you find your settings - and season?

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Friday, June 24, 2011

Cling to the Podium. Don't Sway.

This is my first blog post, and forgive me, I’m a little nervous.

Until now, I have focused on writing for publication. My projects are shared only after much revision, critique, more revision, and finally (if ever!) an editor’s approval. I love to write, so why shouldn’t I love to blog?

Blogging feels a little like public speaking. In front of a crowd, my heart thumps and my knees tremble. I have an embarrassing tendency to sway back and forth, as if standing on a rocking horse. Will I blog like that? Will my words wander so much, readers get dizzy? Or worse, what if no one reads it or comments? The fear of failing drives my heart into arrhythmia.

Writers track blogs by agents, editors and other writers. (by The Nielsen Company) has identified more than 163 million blogs. Not all for writers of course, but still… What can I add to the blogosphere?

Blogging advice says that I must choose a good topic -- ‘evergreen content.’ I must not be an ‘echo chamber’ simply recirculating others’ ideas. My own twisted concern is the immortality of my text in the blogosphere. Will I be happy with myself in retrospect?

I don’t know yet, but I have to try.

With public speaking I learned to practice – in the mirror, in front of my husband. On stage, I make eye contact with one friendly face in the audience, and if necessary, cling to the podium.

My blogging technique will evolve. At least it’s not tweeting – the dangers of that are fresh (don’t Weiner or Sheen-er).

I have to embrace the opportunity. To paraphrase Woody Allen, 80% of life is just showing up.

I’ve grabbed my Mac, and you can’t see me sway. Bring on the blog.

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Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Letting It Simmer

About three weeks ago I finished a first draft of my latest WIP. As I typed my last sentence a feeling of relief and euphoria washed over me. Relief because I’d met my self-imposed deadline of finishing before my children began summer vacation, euphoria because, well, I’d finished a novel and that’s always a nice feeling.

So I did my usual “pat on the back” things. Took a nice long bliss yoga class. Got a mani-pedi. Treated myself to a 60 minute hot stone massage to get all those kinks out of my neck from the long hours of typing (hmmm, could that be a tax write-off?). Unabashedly filled my cup with dark chocolate yogurt and toppings at Yoforia. I also sent my full off to a handful of readers who agreed to get notes back to me by the end of the month.

And then I promptly turned into a crazy person.

All phases of the writing process have their challenges and I think as I go through each one I deem it THE most challenging, but this one…the “letting it simmer” phase is the one I’m currently struggling with. Why? You know that advice about putting your manuscript aside for say, a month, so you can look at it with fresh eyes? Yeah, I have a problem with that.

Always have.

I’m not sure if it comes from the day in and day out spending time with one foot in this world and one foot in the world inside my head that makes it so hard to just chill for awhile. Or if it’s that raspy, paranoid We’ve got to get this done before another book with similar themes written by a celebrity comes out voice that whispers to me when my guard is down. Or if it’s the twisted anticipation of wanting to know my first readers don’t think my manuscript is beyond hope and simply sucks. Whatever the reason, I’m the proverbial dog with a chew toy, not wanting to let go.

So I wait. Hang out with my husband and kids. Watch movies. Spend hours at the pool. Gossip with neighbors. Read. Work-out. Catch up on all the housework I’ve ignored. And remember that yes, I do know how to do more than microwave dinner. And wait some more.

Letting my 370 unruly pages simmer.

Because as it simmers, and the flavors come out and I busy myself with something other than watching it boil over, I know I’ll be able to go back and look at it objectively (well, sort of) and see where I need to add some spice or take things out completely or if there are places I need to (gulp) start from scratch.

So how do you handle it? Do you let you work simmer? Or just keep at it until you think it’s done?

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Friday, June 17, 2011

Why the ___ Didn’t I Write That Book First?

Okay, I’d guess by now that a good number of our Paper Wait readers have read Adam Mansbach’s hilarious bestselling picture book, Go the F___ to Sleep.

If not, here’s a snippet…

The cats nestle close to their kittens,

The lambs have laid down with the sheep.

You’re cozy and warm in your bed, my dear.

Please go the ____ to sleep.

Although a PDF of the book, leaked by industry insiders, went viral months ago, the actual print version debuted his week. Despite causing some controversy among readers who thought it was in bad taste, the book has been wildly successful. It has already sold hundreds of thousands of copies—in time for Father’s Day gifts, no doubt--and is now number one on The NY Times' bestseller list. Can you guess under which category it’s listed? Hint: It’s not picture books.

And the answer is….Hardcover Advice and Miscellaneous. That categorization made me laugh. I suppose some readers, primarily sleep-deprived, grumpy, borderline-lunatic parents, might think this parody really does offer up helpful advice. I was one of those parents myself, not too many years ago, and I definitely let a choice word or two slip out when all else failed. I remember it being helpful to me at the time.

I read that several spinoffs of Mansbach’s book are already in the works. This makes me wonder where he’ll take his irreverent take on parenting next. How about... What the _______ is That ______ in Your Diaper?

So, who out there has read the book? Did you love it or hate it? Just for fun: What kind of spinoffs would you guess are in the works?

p.s. Happy Father’s Day, Dads!

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