Friday, December 28, 2012

You're the Pilot

As the New Year turns with all its new possibilities and unknowns, we often resolve to do many avenues of our lives...and especially in our writing.  As Sharon mentioned here at the blog a few weeks ago here, we writers do resolve (every year!) to be more diligent and creative. And as the New Year approaches we think back upon the last months and consider what we could have done differently and consider challenges to come as the time flies.

                  "The bad news is that time flies. The good news is that you're the pilot!"
                                                          Micheal Altshuler

We are the pilots. To help set our courses for the coming year we can set our instruments on go with the help of many sages.

              "Tomorrow is the first blank page of a 365 page book. Write a good one"
                                                        Brad Paisley

            "Every man should be born again on the first day of January, Start with a fresh page."
                                                        Henry Ward Beecher

           "We will open the book. Its pages are blank. We are going to put words on them ourselves.
             The book is called Opportunity and its first chapter is New Year's Day."
                                                       Edith Lovejoy Pierce

           "What the New Year brings to you will depend a great deal on what you bring to the New Year."
                                                     Vern McLeellan

           "Always bear in mind that your own resolution to succeed is more important than any other."
                                                     Abraham Lincoln 

For us writers as we plot our courses for the coming year this great advise is energizing and inspirational for creative work in the coming months, but lets spice the flying time with a little fun too.

                                     "Each age has deemed the new born year
                                       the fittest time for festal cheer!"
                                                  Sir Walter Scott

You're the Pilot!

Happy Writing! Happy Resolutions!  Happy New Year!        

Read more!

Friday, December 21, 2012

My News!! And a Giveaway!!

Okay, so, I wasn't going to post this quite yet since I'm sure everyone is busy with the holidays but  I can’t hold it in any longer…

I HAVE A BOOK DEAL!!!!!!   Balzer + Bray is publishing my debut YA, The Promise of Amazing, in 2014!!!  Champagne for everyone!!!

I’m still pinching myself.

In honor of this and in the spirit of Christmas, I’m having a GIVEAWAY!!!   

In the comments section, tell me which writers have influenced you and why and I’ll randomly select someone to win a $25.00 Amazon gift card!  Okay, my turn:

One of the writers who has influenced me is fellow Jerseyan, Judy Blume.  Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret was the first book I remember falling in love with. I lived in that book. It was also the first book I read over and over again.  What struck me most about that book was the way it made me feel.  I was going through some of the same things that Margaret was going through…trying to figure out where I fit in, who my friends were, getting a bra, (worrying about having something to fill out said bra!), and going to my first boy/girl parties.  These were thrilling, yet sometimes, scary events!  Reading about someone going through those same things made me feel that all the emotions, the highs and lows, that I was experiencing were…normal.

This is what I aspire to do in my own work -  to create characters and stories which grab you by the collar and pull you into their world.  To laugh, cry and maybe even recognize yourself there.

So how about you, Paper Waiters?   Which writer has influenced you?  Any comments left before midnight on December 24th will be eligible for the giveaway!!  (Just make sure to include an e-mail address so I can contact you!)

Oh, and I apologize for the overuse of exclamation points...but I just can't HELP IT!!!!!!

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Sunday, December 16, 2012

The Caldecott Is Coming . . . Soon, Soon

One of my favorite blogs is Calling Caldecott. It's co-written by Robin Smith (a second grade teacher and reviewer for Kirkus and Horn Book) and Lolly Robinson (who teaches children's lit. at the Harvard Graduate School of Education and is designer/production manager for Horn Book.)

November was Picture Book Month at the Horn Book and two exceptional articles in that section of the blog are "Over and Over," an emotional tribute to Charlotte Zolotow written by her daughter, Crescent Dragonwagon; and Patricia Gauch's article "The Picture Book as an Act of Mischief."

Moving on to the reviews of possible Caldecott Medal candidates, here are a few of the books they've featured:

Read more!

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Resolving to Write

With the New Year just around the corner, resolutions for 2013 come to mind.

I resolve to write one picture book manuscript each month. How will I keep that resolution, you may ask?

Read more!

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

A Chain of Changes

Recently I read a very inspiring blog post. It challenged me to rename three characters where I had settled for bland, generic names. The new names I came up with were much more interesting. (At least, I hope they are. :o) )

But, what really surprised me was how involved a revision this seemingly simple change entailed. I mean, it should be a simple matter of cut and paste, right? \

But it was far from that. Nothing simple about it.

The change of names reverberated through my manuscript. (Just as Ann Whitford Paul had suggested they would!) After re-naming my characters, I discovered the birth order of my young protagonists and how that fit into their motivation within the story.

And, once I gave my characters more interesting names, my last stanza no longer worked. I think that subconsciously, that last stanza had always bothered me a bit. But with the new names, somehow I could no longer pretend to myself that my original attempt at an ending worked. It needed revising. And that revising was challenging but fun to do.

Yes, those new character names really did set in motion a chain of changes. Good ones, I hope!

Has a relatively minor revision ever sparked a chain of changes in your writing? How did your chain of changes turn out?

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Tuesday, December 4, 2012


When hurricane Sandy hit, she felled several large oaks on our property, a major "revision" job, if you want to compare it writing. Luckily, the storm left the house still standing. Subsequently we took down two more immense oaks threatening the the house. Oddly, from within the house it is impossible to see where the missing trees once stood. I know a writer who is valiantly revising a very good story. He calls me when, like the hurricane, he chops whole sections. He has chopped out thickets of writing that don't move the plot along. But the main character and the plot are still standing, and the story is moving forward to what should be an excellent conclusion.

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Saturday, December 1, 2012

Writing Funny

I like to inject a fair amount of humor into my work. I don't write a lot of slapstick or ROTFLMAO stuff, but I hope my readers are giggling frequently. Lately, due to some personal circumstances, I've had a hard time writing at all, let alone writing funny.

I needed a way to combat my writing inertia and get me and my characters out of their gloom. So I invented a writing exercise. At least, I don't know of anyone else who has done this before. Oh, except maybe Second City and other improvisational acting troops.

So here's what I do when the funny is missing.

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Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Light - How Precious It Is

Last month I commented on the coming hurricane - SANDY - and how even if the power, and consequently the lights, went off, people could still read long after their charges on their computers, tablets, and phones went dead - with a book and flashlight or candle!

You've been reading most of the month here on our blog about the toll the storm took -the vast damage to homes, businesses and amusement parks! And how discombobulated you can get when trying to stay warm or cook over the fireplace. If you are not from the tri-state area affected by Sandy you might be thinking - we've heard this all month - can they get over it?

Well, the storm did take a toll. We all know people who lost their homes - their one and only home, as well as vacation homes. It was pretty devastating.

Our area was without power for 12 days. The local nursing home had a generator but it didn't keep the heat up to normal and the elderly patients were cold. Many of the children were out of school for a week and a half. This might sound great if you are ten, until you realize that you might not get a spring vacation this year.

But we writers keep on focusing on writing - can still scribble with a pen on paper and have time to reflect on the lives of writers and readers in the past - before Tom Edison turned on the lights!

How precious is the light - to read and write by! Until people had gas lights and then electric lights, they had to really work at finding time to read. In the summer there is ample natural light until the late evening but in the winter you would have had to sit close to a window in mid-day. Children, writers and clerks working on rows of figures had to use the day light carefully. This sure gives us a renewed perspective on light and how we are so used to having this gift 24 hours a day. And, it gives us a glimpse of how people sacrificed other needs and enjoyments just to read and write before the electric light.

I did sit by the fire and read books into the night - but I used up innumerable batteries in my large flashlight and many candles as I held the book with one hand and the candle stick in the other!

Thanks Tom Edison (who did his great discoveries in NJ!) for our light! And here is the rest of it.

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Saturday, November 24, 2012

Conference Tidbits

Thought I’d share a few nuggets of wisdom about ‘the business’ from the SCBWI NJ Fall Retreat a few weeks ago. In my next post, I’ll share some craft tips.

Editors, Agents and Consolidation
Selling a manuscript is increasingly "more difficult." There are fewer editors, and each editor is responsible for a growing number of books.
  • Each editor has less time available to spend on each manuscript. 
  • The Penguin/Random House merger will only add to this trend. 
  • New authors: try a new and not-yet-established agent or editor, especially at reputable agencies. New authors need more personal attention. These young and hungry professionals can devote more time to you than a more senior editor may have available.
Author Responsibility
Several editors and agents agreed that authors are expected to do even more these days once they are published. Editors are looking for extra content: 
  • short stories, 
  • character notes, 
  • side stories for minor characters. 

You must help, sometimes for free, to build the audience and bridge the time between major publications. Don’t throw away your character sketches or alternative plot notes!

Still, each and every editor professes to be looking for new talent -- but mostly through agents or conferences. As always, put forth only your best work.

Finally, kudos to Leeza Hernandez for keeping the conference on-track after Sandy.  Through our first day, the hotel was running on generator power.  NJ Transit was not in operation. Still we had a full panel of agents and editors, and a full schedule.   Thanks Leeza. 

Good luck and keep at it writers. 

Read more!

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Look Who's Coming to Dinner!

Thanksgiving is here! Already!  We still have uneaten Halloween candy!!

Stores are hawking their Black Friday sales - some even starting BEFORE Thanksgiving. (Black Wednesday, anyone?) Christmas decorations are adorning shopping centers and private residences. And my sure fire way of telling the holiday season is upon us - Starbucks has their holiday hot cups! And Peppermint Mochas!!

So, I'm going to keep this light. I'm hosting an incredible (albeit virtual) Thanksgiving feast and you're all invited! Please bring your favorite dish and a guest - a character: hero, villain or otherwise - from your favorite children's book. Picture books to YA! Classics to contemporary! Everyone is welcome.

Hmmm...I invited Severus Snape, but seeing as a)he doesn't want to fraternize with Muggles and b)he doesn't celebrate Thanksgiving and c) well, there was that nasty business in book seven...he declined via owl.

So instead my guest will be the lovely Katniss Everdeen. She promised to provide the fowl.

Who will you bring, dear Paper Waiters?

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Saturday, November 17, 2012

Life, Loss, and Picture Books

Arthur Rackam

With life comes loss. Whether you lose a memento, job, home, pet, or loved one, the pain can feel the same.

With writing also comes loss...

Lately I’ve been mourning the loss of paragraphs, phrases, and words in my picture book manuscript.

Breaking up with a cleverly crafted phrase or an endearing scene can be excruciating. It’s so difficult to part with something you love.

After any period of mourning, it is imperative to move on. Often, life sends better things your way. 

I am starting to think as a picture book writer instead of a children’s book writer. I cut out anything that can be shown or explained with the illustrations. 

My manuscript has gone from 563 words down to 253 words. And you know what? It’s getting better. 

Here are some great quotes by picture book author Juliet Clare Bell on the subject:

“Editing picture book manuscripts is different from editing other manuscripts….A manuscript for a great novel will read as brilliantly as the novel itself. A manuscript for a great picture book will not. But that’s the point. It’s not MEANT to. It’s a picture book. It’s all about the book as a whole

“Remember, you’re not aiming for something that will flow beautifully without the aid of pictures (as it will look as a manuscript in your hands); you are looking for something that will flow beautifully as a picture book.” 

“…picture book editors know how to imagine the pictures. It's their job.” 

How do you deal with loss in your writing?

Read more!

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Concentration? Kaput!

Hurricane Sandy stole my concentration. Ever since those six days without power and then the nervous-making gas shortage, I've been unable to settle back into writing. I'm not talking about being as creative as putting words on the page. I can't even concentrate on pondering the problems in my two current projects!
Here's how I feel:
All foam, no beer.
No grain in my silo.
A few cards short of a full deck.
Missing a button on my remote control.
My sewing machine's out of thread.
I'm one taco short of a combination platter.
The cheese has slid off my cracker.
My elevator doesn't go to the top.

Now compared to Sandy's physical destruction, I know my problem is small. Maybe writing this post will jump start a writing routine?

Thanks to The Paper Wait I had a deadline. Will a deadline do the trick?

Photo credit: Mel Evans/AP.

Read more!

Friday, November 9, 2012

Inspiring Communities

I just got back from my local SCBWI meeting. It was wonderful!

Two local authors presented inspiring workshops. (Thanks Lisa L. Owens and Ben Clanton!) Before that there were fun and funny announcements from our wonderful regional advisors, and good news announcements. Always such a pleasure to hear!

Usually, people don't think of writing as something social. But, when this social component is there, it is such fun. Now that I live across the country from my amazing Paper Wait critique group, these wider community connections are essential.

Of course, there are many ways to find community. Like many writers, I find such wonderful community online. Especially at Verla Kay's Blueboards!

And in November there are even more opportunities for online community. Good luck to all those who are doing NaNoWriMo!

My writing challenge of choice is Picture Book Idea Month. It is such fun to read the blog posts Tara Lazar has been posting each day from a wonderfully talented group of authors and illustrators. (If you read only one (and I definitely advise reading more than one), you must read Day 9's post by Kelly Light. Incredible.)

I am definitely inspired from all this wonderful community! Must get back to writing!

What writing communities have you found? Do they leave you feeling inspired too?

Read more!

Monday, November 5, 2012

The Character Who Will Not Leave

All of you, I'm sure, have read a book so exquisitely crafted that at the story's end the main character seems to be shadowing you. You feel like asking him to sit down and tell you more. This can't be all, you say. I just finished "Old Filth," a highly praised 2005 novel by British writer, Jane Gardam. It could easily be a young adult book, so I'll use it as the subject for my comments. Gardam's work encompases Edward Feather's long life, starting at the end, then switching to the beginning, with his birth in Malaya, then to his miserable seven-year old existence in Wales, then to teenage years, back and forth, each chapter revealing a piece of the puzzle Feathers was. Nevertheless, it is a perfect page turner; only in the last pages of the novel are the multitude of mysteries that make up Feather's life resolved. What I'm sure Gardam did prior to writing was to create a very thorough biography (not just a character sketch) of Edward Feathers, and probably biographies of all the story's characters. Her meticulous character development paid off. I'm afraid I have been careless, writing and hoping my characters catch my reader's attention with minimal effort on my part. I could improve. Vastly.

Read more!

Friday, November 2, 2012

KidLit Cares Sandy Relief Effort Auction

As one of the Paper Waiters who now lives outside of NJ, it has been heartbreaking to watch the footage of Sandy and the devastation left in her wake. The above picture, in particular, left me feeling empty, helpless and just, well, sad. That is the Star Jet roller coaster from Seaside Heights' famed Casino Pier.

There are no words.

I called it the jet star...rolled off the tongue better, I guess. And it used to TERRIFY me. The first climb was straight up to the sky and there was always that thought - what if it doesn't stop? What if we go hurtling into the ocean? That net is SO not going to catch me! Being terrified was part of it - especially when there was a cute guy involved. Nothing like the adrenaline rush of a roller coaster ride to force that first tenuous physical contact and make it okay.  There is magic in that sea-salt air!

The boardwalk was always bustling with families, freaks, hairbags, bennies, guidos and guidettes BEFORE Jersey Shore was even an idea in some TV executive's head. It was the perfect diversion. My mother recently told me, back in her day, they were warned about going to Seaside because the "sin oozed up from under the Boardwalk."

It didn't stop her from going.

Steak sandwiches, lemonade with half a lemon floating in it, games of chance for oversized stuffed animals or rude tee shirts and the possibility of stolen kisses after a sleepy day at the beach...a little slice of Jersey heaven.

I know the shore isn't the only place that was devastated, and I can't begin to fathom all of the lives this storm has touched and changed forever.  What is life affirming to me is how people come together.

Children's author Kate Messner started KidLit Cares - an auction to benefit the Sandy Relief Effort. A phone chat with agent Erin Murphy, a phone call and critique with Egmont USA publisher and editor Elizabeth Law and a Skype visit with author/illustrator Mo Willems are just a few of the experiences you can bid on through this amazing auction. Author Skype visits! Manuscript critiques from pros! All to help out a good cause.  Go. BID. The auction runs until November 9th. (latest item additions have later end dates!)   THANK YOU!!

*photo credit NBC News

Read more!

Sunday, October 28, 2012

When the Lights Go Out

As we and all in the east on the Middle Atlantic coast prepare for THE STORM - SANDY - we are storing up batteries for radios, and flash lights and checking candles, matches, barbeque grills, shopping for food usable without electric power, and leaving stores empty of batteries, soup, bread, milk, water, and cookies. We are thinking of what the next few days will bring. Will there be severe flooding, wind damage and power outages? Will the power be off for a long time?

The good news for readers, and writers, is that we have numerous vehicles to keep us company during the storm. Computers, Kindles, I Pads, and DS's. We can surf the web, play games, send emails, watch videos, and read books on these great utensils.


when the power has been off for a long and continuous time and the energy in our reading machines dies down, there is hope! If the electric power is off for a long enough time and the machines no longer operate without being charged, we still have...BOOKS!

In day light and at night in the glow of flash lights or candles, we can read on and on in a hard copy paper book. When the lights go out, we still have books - for information, research, mystery, romance, and STORY!

Sort of nice.

Read more!

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Giraffe Limbo

I tossed my ‘giraffe’ in the air…the rhyming manuscript about which I was so excited went off, exclusively, to two carefully chosen editors.

A month or two later, I had heard nothing; I assumed nothing.

As happens in this industry, it turns out that editor number one, for whom I had high hopes, left the publisher two weeks after I emailed her.  Editor number two has sent no reply.  Nearly three months have passed since I submitted.

I need to follow up so that I can forward the manuscript to other editors. How should this be handled? While I am out of luck with editor number one, is it as if the manuscript dissolved in cyberspace? Or do I have a responsibility to follow up with that publisher?  Editors move frequently.  What is the standard practice with manuscripts left unresolved upon that editor's departure?

With editor number two, I have a picayune protocol question: since I submitted by snail mail (as required) must I also follow-up by snail mail? Or can I shoot an email?

Rejection protocol. I know many of you have been through this before. Thanks in advance for your advice.

Read more!

Monday, October 22, 2012

Music to Soothe the Savage Writer

Over the summer my husband noticed a song on one of my iPod playlists and wondered why on Earth I felt like listening to THAT? It was Hate Me by Blue October.  I'm prone to some blue periods, so his concern was genuine.  Is that how I was feeling? But when I answered that I wasn't listening to it for me, but for my character - I think he worried even more!

I first heard the song in spin class, during a time I was getting to know the characters in my current manuscript.  There was something about the haunting melody and angst-ridden lyrics that felt perfect for my male protagonist. I listened to it for quite some time - sometimes while writing - to put me in the character's frame of mind.  See, music is portable.  You can listen to it in the car, on a run, cleaning, folding laundry and still write in your head. With my ear buds in, I can multitask, even make dinner, while working out my plot and no one is the wiser.

I know I'm not the only writer who gets inspired by music. Stephen King listens to heavy metal so he can focus.  Stephanie Meyer even thanked the band, Muse, in her acknowledgements for inspiring her while she was writing the Twilight series.  I rarely listen to music while I write, but when I do, it's to tap into some emotion.  If I'm stuck in a scene, or have trouble feeling the mood I'm trying to create, listening to music sometimes helps.  I don't consciously put a playlist together, but when I'm finished with a novel I definitely have a soundtrack.  And every character, no matter how minor, almost always has a song.

So what about you Paper Waiters? Does music help or hurt your process?

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Tuesday, October 16, 2012

The Macro and Micro of a Conference

Last Saturday I attended the One-on-One Plus Conference held each year at Rutgers, sponsored by the Rutgers University Council on Children's Literature. I think it's one of the best conferences around for these reasons: the attendees (85 this year) are admitted on the basis of submitted work; and everyone has a 45 minute critique session with a "mentor" who can be an editor, agent, art director, or an established author. In addition, you and your mentor meet with other pairs for a 45 minute discussion in small groups of ten.

This year the well-moderated and lively panel discussion concerned digital publishing. The panel consisted of two who work in digital publishing and one author who publishes digitally by herself. No surprise when near the end, an audience comment led to the pros and cons of digital titles vs. traditional paper and board books.

The keynote speaker was Bruce Coville, whose speech was humorous, philosophical and inspirational. His thirteen pieces of advice covered craft and the business side of writing. The underlying theme was how our words can have a ripple, or butterfly effect.

There's the macro view of a worthwhile day. Now to the micro view.
I was accepted for the conference by a picture book submission - remember that truck story? I also took three other manuscripts with me. My one-on-one was with an enjoyable young assistant editor at an imprint within one of the Big Six. She suggested some changes in the tension of the truck story and then we moved on to my other manuscripts. She was most interested in my noodlehead story featuring the brothers called Sharp, Clever, and Quick. She wants me to tighten it, then send it back.

I'm realistic. Publication of a picture book with her imprint is a VERY long shot. But the revision I've already done has made my book better. And isn't that why we go to conferences?

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Saturday, October 13, 2012

The Sit Spot

What the Robin Knows, by Jon Young, stresses the importance of a “sit spot” for observing and learning bird language and behavior.

Can a sit spot help a writer connect to his/her characters?

According to the Wilderness Awareness School, The Sit Spot is the practice of going to one spot in nature over a period of time. 

My first experience with sit spots was at a nature camp in North Carolina’s Piedmont region. The first time I tried this practice, it took me a while to get comfortable on the rocky ground. 

Once I stopped thinking about myself, I began to see, hear, and feel the life all around me. As I returned to my sit spot daily, I observed more and more. 

As writers, the sit spot can be a great way to observe and learn about the age group you are writing for.  

Writing a picture book with a 4-year-old protagonist? Hang out at the playground. 

Is your YA novel about a sixteen-year-old? Go to a high school sports event or your local mall. 

Besides feeling more connected to your community, you can mold your observations into characters that spring to life on the page. 

I recently found a sit spot at my local park for birdwatching. I’m now searching for a spot for writing (and sketching). 

Do you have a writing “sit spot”?

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Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Inspired by Rejection!

Recently I received a wonderful rejection from an editor.

Non-writers always look at me strange when I say those two words together. "Wonderful" and "rejection". How can a rejection be wonderful? they wonder.

But writers know. Rejections can be wonderful. And this one was...

It was so wonderful because the editor gave me wonderful suggestions for my manuscript. Suggestions that really made sense to me.

So I got to revising. And revising. And revising!

Have you ever noticed how you can't just make one simple change in a manuscript. Every change sparked other changes.

And in the end it was a pretty different manuscript. But still the same, if that makes any sense.

All the best parts were there. But it felt fresh and new.

A true re-vision. Thanks to a wonderful rejection!

So, what wonderful rejections have you had?

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Thursday, October 4, 2012

"He's such a character," someone says. Well, aren't we all? Or are we? Some fictional characters seem to have stepped out of real life right into the book. They are made to order for an exciting story. The writer has only to change their name. Other people in real life are so dull they couldn't even make it into a newspaper story. How does a writer construct a character? Does she, like Laura Ingalls Wilder, develop sweet, charming characters out of three or four people in her life? Or like Carl Hiaasen, does she create bizarre characters that emerge from the Florida Everglades like alligators with a bad attitude? Characters drive the story. If a reader doesn't fall in love with them or find them creepy, or frightening, or funny, or thoroughly distasteful, he'll drop the book and log on to Facebook. Lots of characters there.

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Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Revision Tip - Make Bad Choices

My revision passes usually have specific purposes. When I've finished my first draft, my first revision deals solely with plot. I rearrange here, add or subtract there, build up plot threads and kill off and combine characters. I do additional revisions focusing on character, setting, dialogue, beginnings and endings, etc. But I've recently added another revision pass that has changed the way I look at the entire process. I call it the "make bad choices" pass.

I've written before about my tendency to make my characters too good for their own good. Sure, bad things might happen to them, but my initial impulse is to let them take the high road to get out of any mess.

Now, I still let them have their nobility in my first draft, but when I get to the make bad choices draft, well, I let them make bad choices.

So here is what I do. I go through my manuscript and mark up every time my characters make a choice. It could be as monumental as whether to have sex or as small as what flavor ice cream to order. Then, I make them make the worst possible choice and see what happens. The results could be as devastating as a teen pregnancy or as embarrassing as a white shirt with a chocolate stain in a strategic spot. I may not keep every bad choice, but I always end with a meatier, more tension-filled story.

Anybody else care to share about revision?

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Monday, September 24, 2012

Time to Jump on the NaNoWriMo Bandwagon?

One of my new school-year resolutions is to re-commit myself to a half-written MG novel. I absolutely love the idea, but after a few very rough partial drafts, I was so frustrated with plot and structuring challenges, I put the manuscript aside for a few weeks. That was a year ago.

So, can National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) help resuscitate my dream? With its exponential growth, some writers must think so. In 1999, NaNoWriMo started with 21 writers. Last year more than 250,000 participated. At least one NY Times bestseller, Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen, is a result of this dedicated frenzy of writing.

The rules dictate that 50,000 words are written entirely from scratch. Can I really write more than 1500 words a day for 30 days, every day? I don’t know. I am not a quick word producer but I’m hoping NaNoWriMo will force me to write faster. Will faster be better though?  If not better, will it be valuable?

About fourteen percent of participants ‘win’ (reach the 50,000 word target). I’m not starting completely from ‘scratch.’ I do have the general outline of a plot and characters sketched out – is that cheating? Or useful planning? Either way, my goal is to progress my manuscript.

I’m wary of abandoning my previous work, but as Ernest Hemingway observed after losing several manuscripts, starting again might be the best thing that ever happens to it.

So, ever tried NaNoWriMo? How did it go? Would you recommend it? Anyone want to join me?

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Thursday, September 20, 2012

Put Said to Bed

Last week my daughter's teacher sent out an e-blast letting us know what the children would be learning the upcoming week. As I scanned the e-mail I noticed in their Writing lesson they were going to learn how to "put said to bed". The image I kept getting was of poor little said, being sent to bed with no supper. I wondered if said would be the type of word who kept looking for ways to stay awake, rubbing its eyes, asking for water and maybe needing an extra blanket or two.

I was impressed because I don't remember learning something so fun in my own fourth grade class. I remember doing a report on the natural resources of Alabama.

But then I thought, is this really the right lesson for a writer? 

Said gets a bad rap, doesn't it? Use it too much it gets redundant and boring. Don't even think of spicing it up with an adverb (shudder) because the literary police will actually come knocking on your door and ticket you for lazy writing. "Then of course there are using other words in its place," she scoffed. 

Just the other night I had a conversation with my daughter that went something like this...

G - "Mom, what's another word for said?"
Me - "What do you mean?"
G-"You know, what can I use instead of said?" 
Me - "Um, hmm, well, you see..." 

No, really, try and answer that question easily. It wasn't that I was stumped, but I had to ask her what was going on in the scene. And then suddenly I was getting into dialogue mechanics* and the tone of the scene and what point did she want to get across and really all she wanted to do was finish her work, watch some Phineas and Ferb and then go to bed herself. 

To be clear, I don't have a problem teaching fourth graders to find different words for overused ones. I get it. This is for creativity, not creating a Printz-worthy masterpiece. It expands their minds, makes them think. As I revised some of my own writing this week, that little phrase kept going through my head. And while I didn't put said to bed on every page, I did give it some warm milk and made the suggestion on quite a few. The result was tighter, more concise dialogue.

Maybe not a bad lesson for writers after all. 

So how about you? Do you have trouble putting said to bed? 

*For a great lesson on dialogue mechanics and the word said please refer to the book Self-Editing for Fiction Writers by Renni Browne and Dave King.

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Sunday, September 16, 2012

Fineena's Final Choice

In our village in Ireland this summer, a 58 foot fin whale swam into our harbor, settled in to a corner where shore meets pier and rested in shallow water. The chest-high cement wall along the pier overflowed with villagers craning their necks to see over and down towards the water below.

With her nose into the apex of cement walls, able to submerge just inches beneath the surface, she rose and blew, spraying seawater from her blowhole and puffing every few minutes. It was a fascinating spectacle. How often can you watch a whale, and see its face, with protruding gray balls for eyes, and a white horseshoe mouth bigger than my kitchen, up close, for hours on end?

Sadly, it was soon apparent that our whale friend was not well. 
Muddy red water let everyone know that Fineena, (Irish for ‘beautiful child’, the name dubbed her by locals) was bleeding internally. No one, not the veterinarian, the whale specialist, nor the fishermen could help. This was real life, not a children’s story. Fineena lay ill for three days before dying, enduring tidal shifts which left her slick black skin half exposed above the water, scratched ragged from a gale-force storm which tossed her helplessly against the cement pier and rocky bottom. 

Simultaneously macabre and inspirational, from a writer’s point of view, I wonder where I should take this story. Children’s reactions were as varied as their accents. One teenage boy broke into tears. Others watched wide-eyed with obvious questions. Some just accepted it, with “That’s nature.” 

Can I use this emotive experience to write a happy picture book ending for Fineena? Can I use the powerful death scene I witnessed in a middle grade novel and how? Her behavior brings up so many questions and infinite story possibilities. Why did she choose our village as her final resting place? Why not the shallow creek where the seal colony lives, or another of the limitless, uninhabited coves nearby? Fineena swam past hundreds of boats with low keels, their thick-roped moorings stretching from the water’s surface to the bay floor, creating an underwater maze. How did she manage to cause no damage? Why was she so determined – was it something about the echo of human voices across the water? 

I wrote my initial impressions as the story unfolded. When I look back at that draft, I am struck by the richness of detail and emotion, and authenticity. The voice, using the point of view of the whale, is much more powerful than my remote efforts. So writers, you’ve heard it before: write it down, right away! Take copious notes. It matters. Readers will feel it. 

I don’t yet know what my final choice will be for the story, but it feels like a story worth sharing.

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Sunday, September 9, 2012

School Visits: An Update

A few months ago, as I was preparing for publication, I posted a link asking for advice about school visits. Thanks to all who gave me some very helpful and encouraging advice!

Over the last several months, I have gotten an opportunity to use that advice. I have done school and bookstore programs including: "Goodnight Trucks" (a truck slumber party), "The Truck Stop Guide to Writing a Picture Book" and "Rhyme Crime Time" (where I dressed as Sherlock Holmes and investigated "rhyme crimes"). It has been A LOT of fun.

But now, I've got a new challenge coming up.

Northwest Bookfest is just around the corner... and I got brave enough to volunteer to do a presentation in the children's tent.

My presentations have been going really well, but in the venue of a book festival, I am eager to take my presentation to the next level. I really want to make everything as fun and interactive as possible!

I think I want to blow up my visuals so that kids can easily see them from farther away. And get the kids to help me with some truck sound effects. (Both of these ideas should make my school presentations more engaging as well. Yay! :o) )

But those are just a couple ideas. I am eager to do everything possible to make my presentation fantastic.

So awesome Paper Waiters-- how can an author make a standout presentation in a festival venue? (Any suggestions gratefully accepted.)

p.s. If you are in the area, please stop by Northwest Bookfest on September 22nd - 23rd. I will be in the story tent on 9/23 from 11-11:30. :o)

p.p.s. If you are in the Seattle area and are looking for a fun and informative author visit for the 2012-2013 school year, please stop by and check out my school visit descriptions! :o)

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Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Learning from an Expert

In an attempt to understand how to handle plot, back story and character development, I am rereading Carl Hiaasen's books for children: "Hoot," (Newbery Award,2003) "Flush," "Scat," and "Chomp." There are three elements common to his work. One, the main character, always a decent kid, is confronted by a problem or challenge developing either from a family or school situation. He immediately elicits reader sympathy as he moves to solve the problem by himself, often against overwhelming odds. Parents and adults are present, but they are often feckless or have their own problems, or, are sometimes part of the problem. The main character loves and respects his parents but does not ask for their help. He is often protective of them. Supporting characters are edgy, weird and raunchy, definitely "over the top." Second, the plot moves quickly from the first chapter, often from the second page, and there are several threads, all connected with the main plot. As one plot solution develops, another problem arises, and another, until the final solution is reached. The bullies are "taken out," but they return again and again to attack the main character. Third, back story is inserted sparingly and intermittantly, often in a short paragraph, always from the protagonist's point of view. It is rarely presented in dialogue. Hiaasen's books feature south Florida environmental issues, and additional information is always necessary. It is done so well, the reader scarcely realizes he is reading it. I think these three points alone make Hiassen's work appealing to middle graders...and obviously to the Newbery Award Committee.

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Saturday, September 1, 2012

The Possibilities of Digital Publishing

Over the months and years, we've talked a lot about the move toward e-books and digital publishing. But this recent interview with David Levithan published in Digital Book World is an eye-opener. I'm a huge David Levithan fan -- a fan of both his writing and editing. And in reading this article and understanding that he is also on the cutting edge of digital publishing and what it means to the middle grade and YA marketplace -- well, I just wonder if this guy ever sleeps! So please take a moment to read this article. It may open your eyes to some interesting publishing possibilites.

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Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Soft Sounds of Forest Voices

Soft sounds of streams slipping over stones, snow drops falling on grass, a bird's quiet chirping - are some of the voices speaking to visitors at Tetons National Park Visitors Center.

In my last post here, I wrote about listening to different voices from other places than our own immediate world - new spots we might visit, especially in the summertime, and how enriching new voices are to a writer. Last month the new voices I heard were from the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina.

This week while visiting the Grand Teton Mountains in Wyoming my ears tickled with the many unique sounds of this western, high country.

At the new Laurence Rockefeller Visitors Center by the trail head for Phelps Lake, one of the galleries features five long panels that show revolving, short film shots of the sounds of nature through the seasons in the park - the summer stream, the winter snow and the chirping bird, along with moose slowly stepping from the cover of trees into the meadow of deep snow, and an eagle lightly ruffling his feathers.

The gallery intends to demonstrate the tranquility of the wilderness and its inspiration for visitors to find a sense of serenity and relaxation away from the hectic pace of modern life.

Outside on the trail up to Phelps Lake, the sun was shining hot and the sky deep blue. The breeze blew threw the pines , rustling the needles, the creek bubbled down the hillside, and a waterfall crashed over its rocky drop. The clean green water of the lake shone in the sun and reflected the majestic mountains behind it, and was still, until its quiet was broken by a splash of a pebble and the laugh of a child.

These varied and beautiful sounds of the mountain wilderness speak to the visitor, and especially to a writer. So many sights, sounds and ideas for new stories and thoughts for enhancing Works in Progress.

As the last days of summer linger, what new voices have you heard this year and how will you use them in your writing work? .

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Friday, August 24, 2012

The Top 100 Teen Novels

NPR has polled it's audience and come up with a list of the Top 100 YA Novels. Now National Public Radio's audience may be skewed toward the literary and the liberal, and there's no breakdown of the ages of people who voted, but when I read the list, I found only a few surprises.

Does it say something about the age of the voters that the Anne of Green Gables series ranks so high - #14? I was interested to read the link within the NPR article to a blog about what the judges thought constitutes YA as opposed to middle grade. Don't you think the Anne of Green Gables books would be considered MG these days? Perhaps I'm not remembering the last book in the series correctly.

As you look down this list, what comments do you have?

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Monday, August 20, 2012

Romance, Hold the Cheese.

About a month ago, I watched the movie Letters to Juliet with a group of my friends. When I originally saw it on the big screen, I was swept away with the gorgeous Italian countryside and of course, the romance. Who doesn’t love a story about star-crossed lovers who meet again and reignite their passion? Or of someone in the wrong relationship who is suddenly thrown together with a person who is truly right for them?

The ladies I was with apparently. As the credits rolled, more than a few of them thought our choice for movie night was entertaining but somewhat cheesy.

Oddly enough, I agreed.
For me, what had been magical on the big screen came across as slightly unbelievable and forced in my friend’s living room. But what had happened? Maybe since I wasn’t distracted by the larger than life gorgeous scenery and hot buttered movie popcorn, I had the chance to dissect the plot?  Was my mood different?  Or was I affected by my friends reactions? I’m not entirely sure but the question that remained with me, especially as a romance writer, is how do you let a character express their feelings without making it seem cheesy or forced?

Romance is different to all people, isn’t it? What may come across as mawkish to one person might ring true to someone else. If I’m writing something from the heart and a person deems it cheesy – does that mean I'm trying too hard? Or is it just a matter of opinion? And the bigger question is this – if the literary world can accept dystopian societies where kids fight to the death, angels and demons battling over doomed love, and any number of dead girls reflecting on their life who are given the chance to make it better - why is the act of falling in love and forging a relationship so hard to believe?

Are we all just too cynical for a dose of cheesiness now and then?  

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Wednesday, August 15, 2012

You Think I Should Change THAT? No Way!

Love your critique group, but hate some of the advice you get? We've all been there - that stomach roiling reaction to suggestions you don't agree with and the urge to argue rather than maintain the old listen-with-lips-closed demeanor. Instant critique rejection. Happens all the time.

Think you're right to instantly reject a critique comment? Think again.

Becky Levine writes about critique groups. Click on her blog Moving Forward on The Writing Path, and read her great post "Critique Comments: Remembering to Give Them Time."

How often have you instantly rejected a critique suggestion instead of letting it age like fine wine? Did that suggestion eventually improve your story?

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Thursday, August 9, 2012

Lessons from the Violin

This week, I am quite busy. I am attending a Suzuki Institute with my oldest son. For those of you who have never attended a Suzuki Institute, I will tell you, it is quite an amazing experience! Each day, my son gets to take a technique class, a master class, a repertoire class and a rhythm class.

More advanced students are taking music reading, debut orchestra, intermediate orchestra and advanced orchestra. And there are recitals-- a daily honors recital, special evening recitals and an ending recital where all the students will perform.

It is incredible to walk around a college campus filled with so many young musicians! And the teachers have so many techniques for helping their students grow and have fun with the violin (or the viola or the cello or the bass).

Being in such a wonderful artistic environment makes me think about the ideal environment for writing:

1. Just as I make time to practice violin with my son, I must make time for my own writing,

2. Just like his practice sessions don't need to be long, mine don't either. Short, regular sessions devoted to writing or to violin are great. Time can really add up!

3. A big dose of inspiration is very valuable! In Suzuki, it's this institute and regular opportunities to perform at recitals. That inspiration can help you make it through the regular daily practice.

For writing, I must give myself similar inspiration! The conference I went to in April gave me a much needed boost of writing energy. And this year I really want to make it to my local SCBWI chapter's amazing monthly meetings. (Last year, violin group class for my son got in the way. :o) )

Looking forward to a productive and inspiring year! (Are there other lessons we can learn from the violin-- or other arts?)

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Saturday, August 4, 2012

What Constitutes Historical?

I am considering further revision of a book I wrote some years ago. Well, that's a lot of time to think of changes. One of the problems with the novel is that I had placed the story in a contemporary setting. Each time I revised the manuscript, technology, such as phones, fax machines, cell phones, cars, and all their possibilities had changed, and I had to bring the manuscript up to date, leading to other changes, ambiguities and incongruities, etc., etc. I think in my next revision I will place the story in 1980, and by doing so, eliminate some of these stumbling blocks. Now, in your opinion, will this make it a historical novel?

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Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Brain Freeze

I know I'll be aging myself here, but anyone remember that PSA in the eighties that showed an egg frying in a pan with an ominous warning that went something like this  - "This is your brain." (the egg) "This is your brain on drugs." (egg frying) "Any questions?" As I begin another round of revisions, I think I might be changing that to - "This is my brain." "This is my brain during revision."


Wait, no, that's honestly not the right feeling. It's more like the above picture of a dried out sea sponge...empty. Maybe I shouldn't be posting this but I know in the past I've made it clear that I have a love/hate relationship with revision. Yes, it's hard but exciting and ultimately I embrace it, since revision is like 80% of the process, isn't it?

The dried out brain feeling is heinous, though. I feel like I've turned every stone, gone down every path, asked "what if?" about a gazillion times. The request for more revisions has me stymied because my characters have suddenly gone AWOL. ( It's summer, they're teenagers, I guess I should give them a break.)  I've taken to putting my subconscious to work, posing questions right before I go to sleep so when I wake up I can have a "eureka" moment.

Still waiting on that one.

In the meantime I'm working on small edits. I know it will all work out fine, my characters will sheepishly show up on my doorstep during down dog or while I'm taking a shower, but oh, the angst of waiting for it!!

So, Paper Waiters, have you ever felt this way? What do you do to remedy this feeling?

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Sunday, July 29, 2012

Listening to Different Voices

The voice of the guitar rang through the upland meadow nestled in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina, singing blue grass to the crowd. Old and new melodies of the hills, bolstered by the tempo of the band's drum, an old suitcase producing mellow tones, drifted over the fields.

Listening to the mountain music in the evening, hearing soft, southern voices in the day, watching the mist rise silently from many layers of mountain ridges in the morning, laughing as excited children call as they walked across the Swinging Bridge a mile high at Grandfather Mt., and feeling the rhythm of a slower country life, a writer's ear and mind tingle. What enrichment to consider a different accent, cadence, rhythm, inflection, and pace in the language we might consider for our characters' dialogue, voice and setting.

A bonus of summer travel plans is capturing glimpses of these prizes. Some of our members are vacationing in locales somewhat removed from our Middle Atlantic base - Maine where ones hears a more clipped New England accent of Down East, the English of London and the lilt of Ireland, more North Carolina with an eastern coast tone, and the sounds of Seattle and the North West.

What great additions for our use of language - some of which we shall type in subconsciously, and some we will note down on first hearing and use enthusiastically.

In summer, listening to different voices of different places - country music in the meadow or children calling across a mountain top, the strange accent of our own language from a distant shore - enriches our writing life.

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Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Story Power

To follow up Judy’s previous post, Fiction Matters, some experts argue that stories shape our cultural and moral conscience. In a Wall Street Journal blog, Jonathan Gottschall asserted that fiction can help ‘bring on war (“Uncle Tom’s Cabin”) or rapid social change’ (“Will and Grace” and the liberalization of attitudes towards homosexuality).

Stories help the brain learn and identify emotional truths that can be elusive in our own lives. Repeated fictional images render sights and situations more familiar, less frightening, even routine. Fiction is powerful.

 Images of the Aurora shooter, mimicking the famous Batman character the Joker are disturbing. While his incomprehensible actions probably have more to do with seeking glory through publicity than fictional ‘inspiration’ (see this thought provoking segment with noted forensic psychiatrist Dr. Park Dietz) the link to a fictional story is tragically, orange-ly obvious.

As a society we are increasingly inured to violence in fiction and reality, even weary on occasion. Are writers (fiction, non-fiction, journalist, content provider, etc.) responsible in part for this societal degeneration?

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Friday, July 20, 2012

Why Fiction Matters

When I woke up this morning, the first thing I did was knock on my son’s door. I knew he would have a hard time getting up for work. Last night he and a friend had gone to the midnight show of Batman.

I went downstairs. My husband had the TV on. And I saw what had happened at another theater halfway across the country. What had happened to other kids who just wanted to enjoy a movie.
Like everyone else in this county, I’ve been thinking about this tragedy all day. How unexpected it was. How incredibly, terribly sad and senseless. But, I still had to work. And work, for me, meant revising my novel.

As I sat at my keyboard, I thought about my characters, their problems and their emotions. While my plot lines don’t involve tragedies like those in Aurora, Colorado, my main goal as a writer is to connect with emotional truths. I think fiction is important like that. As a writer, it’s my job to create characters that allow my readers to feel emotions in deep and meaningful ways.

Writers like Jodi Picoult and Richard Russo have dealt with difficult subjects like school shootings. Patrick Ness left me in a big puddle when I finished A Monster Calls. These are works of fiction, but the emotional truths within the writer’s words lead us as readers to deeper human connections.

That is one reason why this writing job is hard. And why it is so important.

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Monday, July 16, 2012


We're in Maine enjoying an ocean view and ocean breezes. In our front yard, the clusters of winterberry bushes on the hill down to the ocean attract scads of birds. We enjoy watching gulls, red-winged blackbirds, catbirds, meadowlarks, sparrows, goldfinches, chickadees, hummingbirds and cardinals. We're not too fond of listening to the raucous crows, but they're a part of the scene. The usual. The ordinary. The expected.

Then yesterday when I returned from a walk, I found a surprise!

Wild turkeys! Who'd of thunk it!
And what do these turkeys have to do with writing? Crafting a well-placed surprise jolts readers out of the usual, the ordinary and the expected. And this is a good thing.

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Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Finding Balance

Finding time for writing has always been a challenge for me. I am guessing it is a challenge for many of us. In recent years, my role as "mommy" has made this challenge even more challenging.

But lately, a new challenge has crept into the picture... It used to be that the majority of time I spent on writing was spent-- writing! Yes, some time was spent on subbing, but writing great manuscripts was the primary goal of my writing time. But lately, I have been devoting an awful lot of time to my writing. Just not in the way I used to.

Time devoted to writing now includes prepping for school visits, doing school visits, doing story times, and, of course, writing to various people suggesting author visits and story times, etc.

Unfortunately, the list above is far from complete. There is so much to do! And everything feels important, and I feel like it is all making a difference for the success of my book.

But I need to find balance. I need to balance writing time and publicity time and mommy time and everything else time.

So how do you all do it? How do you find a balance between publicity / marketing and actual writing? And, of course, the larger question, how do you find balance between writing and the rest of your life? (Making sure that the rest of your life doesn't squeeze out time for writing, as mine did for many years before I made writing a priority.)

Looking forward to hearing how you all make it work1 :o)

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Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Should the Market Decide?

This weekend the Wall St. Journal filled us in on the possibilities offered by E books; authors will soon be able to track their readers' choices: the color of men's eyes, the length of sex scenes, the endings of stories. Will economist Milton Friedman's famous maxim, "let the market decide" be the new rallying cry of novelists? Will creativity and artistic decisions yield to the demands of those turning the page? But in Sunday's NYT Book Review we find hope: Sarah Towers' review of Christopher Beha's "What Happened to Sophie Wilder" describes the book as a "meditation of why and for whom we write." Might be worth reading. I get into big trouble when I worry about pleasing those who might read what I write. Clarity and good writing are all important, and rewriting is essential. But what I want to say is mine alone. I can't let the "market" decide for me.

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Sunday, July 1, 2012

Different Writers, Different Responses

Julie's recent post about writers and writing spaces made me think about how much I love to read about famous writers and every aspect of their writing lives: their habits, routines, passions, challenges. And I always appreciate their advice.

So when I came across this post on Flavorwire, detailing writers' responses to children's letters, I immediately clicked through. You should too! It's fun to share Maurice Sendak's delight, J.K. Rowling's empathy, and most of all, Harold Pinter's no nonsense answers to a list of literary questions.


4 November 1966.

Dear Master Seaman,

I’m glad to know of the interest of Form 5A in THE CARETAKER. I will answer your questions quite frankly.

i) Davies’ papers are at Sidcup because that’s where they are.
ii) His name is assumed because he assumed it.
iii) The two brothers see little of each other because they rarely meet.
iv) Aston fiddles with his plugs because he likes doing it.
v) When he goes out to walk, he walks.
vi) The monk swears at Davies because he doesn’t like him.
vii) Davies doesn’t like coloured people.
viii) He refuses to believe that he makes noises during the night.
ix) The Buddha is a Buddha.
x) The shed is a shed.

I assure you that these answers to your questions are not intended to be funny.

My best wishes to you all.

Yours sincerely,

(Signed, ‘Harold Pinter’)

Harold Pinter.

What I most love about this response is the brutal simplicity of Pinter's writer's imagination. He created a world and described it "as is". No more, no less. He leaves so much to the reader, and doesn't fear his readers having different interpretations. Or no interpretations at all.

What a contrast to the other writers and their responses to their young fans. But isn't that the beauty of writing? There is room for so many different styles. Lush, sparse and everything in between. And the beauty of reading as writers, is appreciating the work of other writers and writing styles that are totally unlike your own.

As for me, my writing falls more towards the sparse side than the lush side. Yet I can appreciate a good, epic saga that spans decades, even centuries. I love Michael Chabon and Jeffrey Eugenides.

Anybody else out there have favorites that are completely unlike your own writing?

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Thursday, June 28, 2012

"And Then What Happened, Mommy?"

"What happens next?" It's all about the story.

Last week I was visiting one of my favorite independent book stores, the Tattered Cover, in Denver, and was browsing in the PB department. A little three year old girl sat, swinging her sandaled feet back and forth, listening to her Mom read to her. The Mom read, "and then ..." and paused. "And then what happened, Mommy?" asked the little girl. "Then what happened?"

There it was - the magic of story. The little girl was mesmerized with the suspense of the story in the PB - What was happening to the characters? What was coming next?

In the MG and YA department next store a brother and sister picked through the novels, sat in the comfortable easy chairs and delved into the stores. Story was alive there between the covers at the Tattered Cover.

How important it is for us children's writers to work at writing excellent stories, that entertain and educate, that build sympathetic characters, apt settings and intriguing plots. And to make the magic happen for children so that they continue to read, whether it's paper bound books in a fascinating booky book store like the Tattered Cover, or electronic ones on their iPad or Kindle.

It's all about the story and what happens next!

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Monday, June 25, 2012

Manly Writing Rooms

When I came across this article about writing rooms of famous men in the Art of Manliness, I couldn’t resist a peek.

The article includes movie-worthy libraries and studies of authors as famous as Rudyard Kipling, William F. Buckley, Norman Mailer, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and a few other notable names.  Roald Dahl’s space is such a welcome surprise, I have to share it with you. You can even explore his hut here, through the Roald Dahl museum.
I envy book-walled studies-cum-libraries, finding them soothing and intriguing.  Such a collection of classic novels, well-bound references, historical essays and philosophical tomes must confer greatness to a writer in their midst.  Right?

I can't help comparing my own space to these (or to the beautiful layouts in the Pottery Barn catalogue for that matter).  My shelves are not picturesque. My desk is less so, with works-in-progress competing for desk space with bills, magazines, school forms, etc.  

Roald Dahl’s unique space is an inspiration, and a reminder that less can be more. Rows and rows of books – not necessary. Sparse solitude worked wonders for him.  I wouldn't call it 'manly', but then again, his hut certainly isn’t feminine, not that it matters. 

Mostly, his space was well-defined, and well-used. He was so focused on his work that he often kept the curtain closed.  No distractions.  Oh that my space was so conducive to productivity.  Of all those wonderful writing rooms,  I aspire to his. 

Which room do you aspire to? What about your office -- how do you see your writing space?

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Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Happy Summer (Reading?!)

Way back when, in my small, private elementary school we did not have a summer reading list. There were no projects to complete. No packets of worksheets so our minds wouldn't turn to mush. The last day we cleaned our desks, received our report cards and didn't have to think about school until after Labor Day.

Now as a parent I greet the summer with a mix of relief (Yay! We can sleep in!) and worry (Okay, now what?) and the statistics of "summer learning loss" that are tossed around as early as a month before school gets out. I particularly enjoy the commercial for a learning center that shows words literally pouring out of a child's ear as he climbs out of the pool. The parent in me gets completely freaked with this information but there's this other part of me that's like...

Oh. Please. Come. On.

Whatever happened to summer just being summer? Family vacation? Time to goof off? Time to swim, make a sand castle, hunt for treasure, sleep in a tent, capture lightning bugs, run just because it feels good or eat ice pops that turn your tongue purple?

Not that I'm against summer reading - I don't like being the ENFORCER.  And while I never had a summer reading list, I usually read during the summer. Mind you, I wasn't reading Newbery winners - more like Forever by Judy Blume or the Flowers in the Attic series by V.C. Andrews. Books that I enjoyed - does it matter if I wasn't analyzing them? Answering essay questions? Thinking about deeper themes and meaning? I read, for the sake of - gasp - reading and I'd really like to raise children who read because they love it as well.

I do think summer reading is important, but so is goofing off. Make anything a requirement and it suddenly becomes a drag. A sure fire way to make any reluctant or rebellious would be reader push away from the table.

So Paper Waiters, what do you think? Is it more important to read from a classic reading list and work on a project than to read for enjoyment? Or can the two co-exist peacefully, especially in the summer?

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Saturday, June 16, 2012

Sentences That Breathe

In "My Life's Sentences" a brilliant article about writing, (New York Times, 3/18/12) Jhumpa Lahiri claims: "They (sentences) remain the test, whether or not to read something. The most compelling narrative, expressed in sentences with which I have no chemical reaction, or an adverse one, leaves me cold." So what sort of sentence keeps the reader hooked?

"Certain sentences breathe and shift about, like live matter in soil. The first sentence of a book is a handshake, perhaps an embrace. Style and personality are irrelevant. They can be formal or casual. They can be tall or short or fat or thin. But they need to contain a charge. A live current, which shocks and illuminates ... Sentences are the bricks as well as the mortar, the motor as well as the fuel. They are the cells, the individual stitches. Their nature is at once solitary and social. Sentences establish tone, and set the pace."

How does Jhumpa Lahiri create the sentences in her fiction? "After an initial phase of sitting patiently, not so patiently, . . . they begin arriving fully formed. . . I hear sentences as I'm staring out the window, or chopping vegetables. They are pieces of a jigsaw puzzle, handed to me in no particular order."

Later, they are "sorted, picked over, organized, changed. Most will be dispensed with. All the revision I do - and this process begins immediately, accompanying the gestation - occurs at the sentence level. It is by fussing with sentences that a character becomes clear to me, that a plot unfolds. . . As a book or story nears completion, I grow acutely, obsessively conscious of each sentence in the text. Each sentence is "confronted, inspected, turned inside out."

Does her writing process seem unusual? Or do you also work this way?

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Tuesday, June 12, 2012

The Personality of the Narrator

Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about narrative voice. Not which person to use, but which personage. The narrator's personality is such a make-or-break element of a novel from the very beginning. A really strong narrator grabs you from the first line. For example, Scott Westerfeld’s dystopia Uglies begins with this image: “The sky was the color of cat vomit.” Original. A bit graphic. Also highly descriptive—at least to any cat owner! But also angry. Maladjusted. What a way to see a sunset! Right away we see that the narrator is no Sugar Plum Fairy; it's not going to lead us into the Land of the Sweets.

Westerfeld's heroine Tally Youngblood is bold, frank, original; restlessly counting down the days till her 16th birthday and the total makeover that will turn her into a flawless, bubble-headed “Pretty.” With this first line Westerfeld sets up a tension with the scenario he’s set up for Tally; we know a girl that who sees sunsets as cat vomit won’t find it easy to conform. He sets up a tension between his scenario of seeming perfection and his view of that world. (In this case the narrator is third person, but very close to Tally's point of view most of the time.)

Choosing the narrative voice is one way of choosing what kind of writer you want to be. How do you choose your narrative voice? Do you think about it consciously? Or does it just flow out of you?

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Friday, June 8, 2012

Enjoying Publication!

Last month I wrote about the mammoth to do list I was attempting to accomplish in the two weeks prior to the publication of my picture book, "Where Do Diggers Sleep at Night?"

At times, accomplishing all the tasks on the list seemed impossible. But now, several weeks after my book is available for purchase, I can give you the update and...

I did it! Nearly every task I listed is done

The book trailer is now complete. (And I think it looks pretty awesome!) You can check it out here:

And the online Truck Stop Book Launch party was a truckload of fun! (I haven't taken it down yet, so if you haven't gotten a chance to visit yet, please do! Truck Stop Book Launch

And school visits have been so much fun! Especially the one to the elementary school I attended as a child. (My fourth grade teacher brought my fourth grade picture to show to her current second graders. Thanks Mrs. Moskowitz!)

And the Touch-a-Truck day that the Junior League of Seattle planned was so much fun! I got to sign copies of DIGGERS (alongside Seattle's awesome Mockingbird Books) for lots of books for lots of enthusiastic truck fans!

So that's the update! I'm so glad that last month's craziness is gone!

Although it's still pretty hectic around here.

(Two more school visits next week!
Yay! This is fun!)

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Monday, June 4, 2012

Dark and Stormy Doesn't Do It

"Tt was a dark and stormy night." This opening line in Bulwer Lytton's "The Last Days of Pompeii," is considered a literary joke. For years the sentence has been used as an example of how not to open a novel. Today one must start in the middle of the action. Hook the reader, expecially the younger reader. No more scene painting. Description is to be used like salt or vinegar. Sparingly. I'm not so sure I agree with this. Wouldn't a good opening paragraph with time, place, weather, scenery, be beneficial to the reader? Guess not. Like a TV viewer surfing channels for an eyecatching flick, the young reader wants the first line to pull him in. "Lights, camera, action" works best. So I've been examining my manuscript for the eyecatcher. Apparently it is not a teenage farm girl in front of a hot stove. Guess I have to trot out the dead body a little earlier.

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Saturday, June 2, 2012

Camping In

I'm camping in this June. Okay, maybe I'll spend some time on my deck with my laptop, but I'm camping in with Camp Nanowrimo. Yes, for those of you who always yearned to write a novel in a month, but couldn't imagine speed writing in November, you can now attend Camp Nanowrimo in June or August!

Camp Nanowrimo works perfectly for me. I had already decided to buckle down and finish my revision in June. Now I have friends and emails cheering me on to reach that finish line.

So excuse me if this post is short -- I have a lot of work to do. And who knows, if all goes well, maybe I'll go to camp in August, too!

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Monday, May 28, 2012

An Asset

I have always found that being a writer is an asset in many ways but in unusual circumstances it becomes a great asset. Sitting for long periods of time in a hospital room or a rehab center when a loved one has a prolonged and serious illness, as my husband has suffered recently, can be draining and wearying since you need to be there but you can't help with what is needed medically. But, as a writer, I can be present for him and write too. With a pad and pen, laptop and Ipad I can work almost anywhere. I have reviewed my critique group members' manuscripts for the meeting last week (Writers - they are in the mail!) and work on my own manuscipts. I can revise, revise, revise, updating changes on the laptop or home computer at night. At the same time I get to travel to the locales of each story, to a supernatural new world of one colleague and a local high school of another colleague's current WIP where the MC struggles with his unique problems. I can travel to the Himalaya Mountains, scene of a new PB manuscript of mine or back in time to medieval England which is the setting for a historical fiction PB that I am working on. As Julie mentioned on her last post here, one goal of a writer is to keep the story going and moving forward, even if it is a little at a time. So I keep up with my characters' journeys and the changes in the plots and protagonists of the blossoming books of my writing colleagues.

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Friday, May 25, 2012

Words Are Not Enough

This year I have made progress on several projects, although I haven’t written as much as I intended. As the summer looms, and the inevitability of children rushing through my house all day approaches, I realize I will get even less done each day than I do now.  How can I write more, and write it faster?

Many authors measure their progress in words per day.  This doesn’t seem to work for me.  I need to be a more ‘effective writer.’  

Here’s what I need to work towards:

1.     Plan.  Outline.  Draw a mind map.  Looking ahead can save a lot of looking back and rewriting. 
2.     Separate writing from editing.  Effective writers WRITE, without looking back.  Just get through the first draft, not the first chapter.  Edit through the dross and the good stuff in a second stage.  (This is a biggie for me.)
3.     Write every day, even just a little.   Just one more page keeps the story moving forward.  Over a year, a page a day is a novel’s first draft.  (Reportedly, Stephen King writes even on Christmas Day.  Wow. What discipline.)
4.     Finish what was started.  Don’t let good ideas rest in peace in the file cabinet.  Resurrect them! Complete what was once a passionate and inspirational project.
5.     Set deadlines.  Deadlines demand a finished piece.  (This is one of the many things a critique group is good for.)
6.     Write first. Volunteer last. Instead of structuring free time around, say, school library volunteer work, and squeezing in writing, structure time around writing.  Give up other activities and give in to the dream of writing.  Then a book I write might appear in the library.

Summer, with frequent interruptions (whether children, visitors, or vacations) can be a tough time to be productive.  But if I try, maybe I will make more progress than I expect. 

How do you keep productive?  Any tips?

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