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1. My Final Post

I am feeling really sentimental right now. This is my final post for The Paper Wait.

I remember when we sat around a table trying to figure out a name for this new blog we were trying to form. And I remember when we "practice blogged" before we even shared with the world what we were doing. The world of blogging was so brand-new!

Over the years, our blog blossomed. It became a place for us to converse about what was going on in our writing lives. With our fellow critique group members and with our wonderful readers. (Thank you, Wonderful Readers!)

Over the years, our posts shared the highlights of our writing lives. These posts share our questions and our doubts and our fears. They also share our successes and our cheers for one another!

I know I can look back at my own posts to remember so many precious writing memories. And so many challenging revisions. (Won't it be neat to look back at a post about wrestling with how to get a manuscript just right once I sell that manuscript? I think hopefully. One of the manuscripts I wrote about just went out into the world to try to find a home and another will be going out soon. :o) )

Our blog has been filled with memories and with celebrations. It has also been filled with problem solving and with conversations.

I will miss our blog! Please keep in touch and make sure to share ALL exciting writing news (I know there will be a lot from our talented critique group and our talented readers!)

To my fellow bloggers: Thank you for blogging with me! It has been a wonderful five years!

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2.

<!--[if gte mso 9]> Normal 0 false false false EN-US JA X-NONE <![endif]-->

I know I’m not the only one who does this, but when I do it I feel as guilty as if I were the only one who does. I call it Revenge Writing. You know, when you dislike certain people to the point where all of their barf-green shades of blech seep into your brain and come out on the page in a scene in your book while you’re trying to write something else.


Just like they interfere in your real life, you let them interfere with your writing. You write colorfully about them, because the negative emotions they inspire get you going more than the people you actually like and because you want to repeat all of the outrageous things they say. But they don’t often belong in your novel, with some notable wonderful exceptions (like Nora Ephron’s Heartburn). You don’t want your characters to center around them any more than you want your life to.

My current objects of dislike are what I term OMGs (adults who persist in living life as if it is a perpetual middle school popularity and bullying contest). Even though my novel-in-progress is aimed exactly at the middle school age group, these particular people don’t belong in it.

But I have a little thank-you for one right now. A couple of days ago, a mere five-second encounter with an OMG finally got me writing a chapter I had been struggling to start all week. The brief real-life dialogue with her led to a key discussion in my story between two important and very likeable characters, a discussion which will guide my main character in solving a problem and getting what he wants. After I was done writing that chapter, I silently gave a thank you to the OMG for inspiring me, and to God for allowing me not to make the passage about her.

So I am happy to report that rather than getting bogged down in “Revenge Writing,” I have my scene; I have turned bad into good. I think it worked. I’ll find out later this month when my writing group colleagues have a look at it.


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3. It's the ONLY thing!

Writing for children ....... "It's the ONLY thing!"

While we take a hiatus from our blog, I focus on the reasons we choose to write for children and feel like Water Rat said so famously in the classic, WIND IN THE WILLOWS, when describing  boating to Mole,  "It's the ONLY thing!" For us, writing for children is the ONLY thing.

In his children's book of 1908, Kenneth Grahame creates an enchanting new world for the child reader with wonderful language ("Never in his life had he ( Mole) seen a river before...this sleek,sinuous, full bodied animal, chasing and chuckling....with a gurgle...and a laugh....Mole was bewitched, entranced, fascinated...he trotted as one trots, when very small...") . Here Grahame creates the picture of a lively running river, a new and intriguing experience for his character, and endears his character, Mole, to the small child reader who is also "very small."

In his classic, Grahame creates a new place for children, with well developed characters that children embrace for their familiarity and bond with as friends, brings a story of simple but exciting adventure and carries the reader out into the environment of the nature filled river world and woods.

When Grahame as an older man met with Ernest Shepard who was illustrating the first edition of the book with pictures, he spoke of his characters, Mole, Rat, Toad and Badger. He said, Please treat them kindly. They're my friends.

If we can create well crafted characters that are our friends and become friends of children and bring them to the readers in a unique and familiar setting so children relate to them and remember them with pleasure or use them to understand experiences of their expanding world, it will be the ONLY thing.

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4. Endings

Wikimedia Commons: Photo by Roke.
The end of one thing is the beginning of another, even if you're not sure what the next thing is yet.  This blog is coming to a rest, and I seem to be searching for comfort lines.   I hate endings, fictional or real.


I'll miss the on-line connections, the insights, the discipline, and the deadlines.  Okay, maybe not the deadlines.  I won't miss them much.  I just need them.

From giraffes and rhyming manuscripts to self-publishing and the Common Core, thank you for sharing in my little piece of this surprisingly cozy venue.  The Paper Wait is made up of thoughtful and professional writers, with loyal and supportive followers.  It has been my pleasure to be a part of it.

I'll leave you with one of my favorite quotes about writing, stories, and endings:
"There is no real ending.  It's just the place where you stop the story."  
Frank Herbert.

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5. Taking a Blog Break

                                                               


In 2008 when we started The Paper Wait, the social media arena was very different. Blogs were "the thing," and a critique group blog was unusual. The scene has changed. Facebook and Twitter hold sway now and we're ready for a blog break. Five years of thoughtful, informative and humorous posts remain that reflect our varying personalities.

My posts often echoed my writing life during the last five years:


I dabbled in the digital app world by allowing a start-up company (that failed quickly) find illustrators for two stories. One of the apps was fine. The other, because I wasn't shown proof, had a bad error - one illustration didn't match my text. UGH, but I'm not sorry I took a chance.

I peddled two PB's at conferences and with editors. No luck. The PB's needed to be more "character driven," and in spite of aiming for that in many revisions, they haven't sold.

I sold nine pieces to magazines - some published and some on hold. Is this my future? Perhaps. My concise writing style lends itself to short stories and I enjoy researching folktales to retell.

We're taking a blog break, but our group lives! I'll still critique with our talented members. And I'll write. And submit. And wait. I'll always be a paper waiter.









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6. When the Character Fits


I'm in the home stretch of my WIP. I've worked on the flow. I've cut out repetition. My dialogue sparkles. But it still needs a little work. I need to make my minor characters as rich and full as my main character.

On my latest pass, I'm working on the love interest. Some crit comments focused on my leading lady being a bit too generic. And they were right. While my leading lady has a rich inner life, I wasn't bringing it out nearly enough. So I went back to the drawing board. I did more research on her interests. And in this revision, I'm looking for opportunities to showcase the character tics that my MC loves. Those character traits that make him fall in love with her and hence, let the reader fall in love with him.

And it's really fun. I feel like I'm at the point after you move -- the room is painted, the furniture in place, the window treatments hung -- and you stop at a flea market and find the perfect accessory for the spot above the bookcase. The point where everything starts to fit.

Here's to getting fit in 2014!

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7. The Heart of the Matter

No, this is not a commentary on Greene's novel. But I will use the title, as the topic has interested me over the holidays.

As a writer, the art of telling a story is always on my mind. During the past month I re-read several children's novels: Robinson's The Best Christmas Pageant Ever and many of Roald Dahl's books, both short and long, among them, James and the Giant Peach and Matilda. What was the common factor in all of these "classics" for children? I think it is that the "oppositional characters," those who provoke the action, are really, really mean, gross and wicked. They are OVERDRAWN. Singly or together the "villains" present obstacles that the child protagonist must overcome, either by his wits or by magic or both.

Today's writers face an even greater challenge than did Dahl; his stories are mostly "telling," and he paints with a large, vibrant brush. In contemporary children's literature, that's no longer permissible. Today's writers are in heavy competition with the digital world that has surrounded their readers since their toddler years.  "Show, don't tell" is now the writer's mantra.

But larger than life antagonists are absolutely necessary. The trick is to create them through dialogue and action, using very little description. That is the "Heart of the Matter."

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8. When writing daily is like eating healthy

I don't do New Years resolutions, but as it happened I made one that pretty much coincided with the new year. I was walking around New York Monday thinking how hard it was to go back there. It's where I grew up partly, and I lived there later, but I have few friends and roots left there. I find in psychologically difficult to go in anymore. Still, I knew it was the right thing to do, and so I forced myself to go in and meet a friend for lunch. I had had the whole week off, but was still stressed from work, even dreaming about it at night.

Anyway, as I was walking down Eighth toward my friend's office, it occurred to me that if I focused on only TWO things this coming year besides parenting--that is, two things concerning me and only me--that I could keep myself sane and moderately content. The first thing was about food, the second about writing the novel. It occurred to me that if I regarded the writing like the food, I'd do well.





Let me explain. About a year ago I started following Dr. Fuhrman's Eat to Live plan. I'm not a diet proselytizer and not the "food police" type, that's not what this is about. It was just something that worked for me--until I fell of when work started. I decided that during my ten days off, I would reboot it, do a lot of cooking, planning ahead so I would stick to it again once school started. So I did.

One of the people interviewed in the Eat to Live book had said something like, "I stayed with the food plan, the way of eating, no matter what. Even when my son was diagnosed with a chronic illness. Even when I lost my job. Even when my father was hospitalized. Even when the basement was flooded." In other words, she stuck with it even in the face of a litany of disasters.

So, as I was walking along Eighth Avenue, I was recalling this, and thought, you know, if I thought about my novel writing this way, I would stop the excuses, and just do it, every day, no matter what. If I keep my focus on those two narrow but important goals, and banish everything else, I think I can do it. I just have to keep remembering that.

It worked for me that day in New York, too. Feeling anxious as I sat on the train in, I told myself, just think of it as a place to write. Have lunch with you friend, then stick along the Eighth Avenue Starbucks and other coffee places and work on your novel. Stop thinking about everything else, just do it. So I did.

 (Then on the way back to Penn Station I tripped a curb and early killed my laptop, but fortunately nearly killed my knees instead. I think at this point I'd rather kill my knees that kill my novel drafts).

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9. The Salt Cellar: Object Inspiration

By Photo by Nick Michael (Private collection)
[Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
On every visit, the salt cellar takes me back to our first meeting.   

When we flew from Washington, D.C. to London to meet my boyfriend’s parents, I was nervous and intimidated.  Their flat was in the upscale Mayfair area of central London.  Their neighbor was ‘Punch’ Sulzberger, former publisher of the NY Times.  They belonged to dining clubs.  

Their apartment overflowed with status, each museum-like piece reminding me of my modest experience in life. Persian rugs.  Original oil paintings.  When we sat down for dinner, there was so much sparkling crystal and silver, I felt the need to shade my eyes.

The intricately carved silver salt cellar (no, no, not just a bowl – a cellar) sat on the table mocking me.  The salt rested there, open-faced, fresh, clean white grains.  I LOVE salt.  I needed salt.  But…there was no spoon. 


I looked across the antique table inlaid with a bronze ribbon trim. I peered around the silver gravy bowl, and gold-rimmed serving dishes.

 I watched to see if my hostess took any for herself, simultaneously trying to comprehend the rapid trill of Irish-accented conversation, and use the appropriate cutlery (two forks, two knives, a teaspoon, and a large spoon above my plate – what was that for?)  The food was savory and hearty:  rack of lamb with gravy and mint sauce.   I didn’t think I liked lamb, but this was good.  And roast potatoes, yummmmmmm.  Crispy on the outside, flaky inside– perfect.  I lopped a large hunk of butter on top.  Salt – the only thing I’m missing is salt.  No one seems to be taking any salt.  The others are well into their lamb now. 

Hmmm. Potatoes are just not the same without a little salt.  Maybe I was just supposed to take a pinch?  Could that be?  We were in England after all, and maybe that’s where the phrase ‘a pinch of salt’ came from.  How the heck do I know – I grew up gnawing on fried chicken on paper plates.

Finally, I took a chance.  I reached in with my fingers and took a pinch of salt.  Mmm.  Great potatoes.

Still chatting, my boyfriend’s mother reached over, and retrieved the salt cellar.  With a quick glance, she found a tiny Thumbelina-sized spoon that she dipped in and used to gently sprinkle salt across her food. 

OH, WHAT HAVE I DONE?  I stuck my naked fingers directly into the food.  MAJOR Faux Paus! 
I already felt like a clumsy, boorish American.  I couldn't even understand half of the words tumbling around the table, even though I knew everyone was speaking English. I just wouldn’t fit in here.  I mean, if I couldn't even do the salt right, how could I make anything else work?  Oh, I was a fish out of water, a coarse middle-class American dropped into the refinement of an upperclass Anglo-Irish household.

That salt cellar was filled with anxiety, class differences, and the polite and charming tolerance of parents to a child’s new ‘friend.’

My boyfriend’s parents are now my in-laws, and we are very close.  My mother-in-law laughs at my salt cellar story, never letting on whether she noticed or not.  Over the years, I have refilled the salt cellar with laughter and joy, acceptance of differences, family connections, and of course, new and learned social graces (I ALWAYS us the tiny spoon).

My mother-in-law just arrived to stay with us for Christmas. On this visit, the object that strikes me as significant is the black ergonomic cane she leans on -- a new accessory for her and a very visible sign of her age. Now in in mid eighties (my father-in-law having passed on a few years ago) she is downsizing her living space, and has begun to distribute special items to family.  Maybe she’ll think of me when she decides to give away the salt cellar.  I hope so.  It always makes me smile. 

Objects are inspiration.  Objects can be imbued with meaning, stories.  It is the time of year when many objects emerge just for the season... so take notice of that platter, the sweater, the door mat that reminds you of cousin Anne. Why? What happened?  Writers, I wish for you this Christmas to find the stories in the objects around you.


Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays!

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10. December Summaries: Two "Best" Books Lists

December.  We look back and summarize our year on Christmas cards. Book review journals summarize a year of publishing in "best" lists.

School Library Journal has published three Best Books lists: Fiction, Non-fiction, and Picture Books. (From the fiction list, you can access the other two lists.)

These SLJ lists hover around twenty titles in each category. It's interesting to compare those lists with the shorter (more selective?) list from Horn Book.
The Horn Book Fanfare lists only nine picture books compared to SLJ's twenty. Interestingly enough, Horn Book lists three that don't appear on SLJ's list: The Tiny King by Taro Miura, Nino Wrestles the World by Yuyi Morales, and Gobble You Up by Gita Wolf.

I don't know how often it happens, but looking over all the lists, there are some authors who've made a "best" list twice!

Over at SLJ, both Holly Black and Rainbow Rowell have two "best" fiction titles. Kevin Henkes has a fiction title and a picture book.
At Horn Book, Kevin Henkes also has the same two titles listed, Penny and Her Marble and The Year of Billy Miller.

Can you imagine the joy of having TWO titles on a December "Best Books" list?







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11. What's Better Than the Library? Nothing.

I've been spending a lot of time in the mall and online, looking for those perfect gifts for the special people in my life. I'm so happy when I find the exact perfect match for that special person, at this particular point in time.

I love it when I'm on the other end of that deal, too. When I open a box and in it is exactly what I want at that moment.

But I'm lucky. Really lucky. I get that feeling of opening up a box and finding that exact special treat so many times every year. I get it every time I walk into my library.


I could never afford to buy all the books I read in a year. And often, books I do buy languish at the bottom of my TBR pile for too long -- those shiny new library books have a return date. When I'm the first one to snap up a new release, I feel guilty keeping it too long.

There are so many times I swear I will not walk into the library. I'm going to simply return what I've finished and tackle all those books I own. But the library's pull is too great. I walk in. I head right over to the new MG releases. Last week I picked up Neil Gaiman's FORTUNATELY, THE MILK. Then I try to check out and exit, but the YA section calls -- I'll just take a look. Ooooh! They have Rainbow Rowell's FANGIRL and Elizabeth Wein's ROSE UNDER FIRE.

Every trip to the library is like opening those gifts under the tree. Each book a surprise, waiting to happen.

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12. The 12 Days of Christmas (Bookstore Style)



Hope you enjoy this adorable 12 Days of Christmas video from the Bookish Elves! Happy Holidays!

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13. Writers to the Core

To follow up on Julie's post, I think writers have been adhering to the "common core" for centuries.  Most writers are not just story tellers. They are teachers as well. It comes naturally to them to describe a scene, a sequence, a beginning and an end. Writers raise questions and answer them. They use history, science, anecdotes, folktales old and new, stones, ducks, rabbits and wizards to tell their stories. In every story there is something that relates to what constitutes an education for a child.

I was reminded of this today in a Wall Street Journal piece, "The Hunger Games" Is a Civic Lesson" by Robert Pondiscio, a former fifth grade teacher in New York's South Bronx. He explains that when parents decry the brutality in Suzanne Collins' novels, they overlook the excellent opportunity the author offers. Not only do the books keep "reluctant" readers turning the pages, but, Mr. Pondiscio says, "they also provide an opportunity to educate kids about the relationship between the individual and the state, personal rights and responsibilities, and the civic duties expected of citizens."

So, writers, worry not. Keep on writing, whether it is about Yetis, frogs, spoonbills, alligators or penguins, graveyards or vegetable gardens.  You are all "writing to the core."

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14. Common Core: Basics and Opportunities


Everyone is talking about the Common Core Standards: it's implementation means nonfiction is up and coming. Not being a librarian or teacher, I didn't know more than that, and thought I should.  I delved in, and discovered some useful resources and emerging opportunities.

Common Core Goal 
“To align instruction…so that many more students than at present can meet the requirements of college and career readiness.”   
Sounds like a worthy goal, but what does that mean for me as a writer?

Informational Texts 
In the introduction, the standards talk about a "growing emphasis on informational texts”, especially in higher grades.  These texts can include textbooks, speeches, articles, and essays as well as nonfiction trade books. 
“Fulfilling the Standards for 6-12 ELA (English Language Arts) requires much greater attention to a specific category of informational text—literary nonfiction—than has been traditional.”  (emphasis added)
The guidelines for reading literary vs. informational passages are defined as:

Grade
Literary Passages
Informational Passages
4
50%
50%
8
45%
55%
12
30%
70%

The Distribution by Grade (2009 NAEP Reading Framework) represents the sum of student reading, not just reading in English Language Arts settings and will affect educators, and writers, across subject areas.

Appendix B 
The 183-page Appendix B provides a list of ‘exemplars’ by grade band (K-1, 2-3, etc.), with extracted text of numerous fiction and nonfiction works.    

While the appendix is not meant to be a complete list by any means, it is used a starting point, so much so that some educators are simply ordering from it.  However, in certain areas, K-1 for example, the informational text listing includes dated, re-issued books such as My Five Senses by Aliki, 1989 (1962) and Starfish by Edith Thacher Hurd, 2000 (1962).  The list seems more current (or directly historical) in grades 6-8.  

It's worth a scan for favored topics, as well as gaps. The new educational strategy of information-based reading should giving rise to lots of writing opportunities: fresh, new material, or old material with a fresh take.   (There is some debate as to whether an emphasis on non-fiction reading leads to better college readiness.  It doesn’t seem debatable that these guidelines are driving a change in publishing and purchasing patterns.)

In a post on I.N.K. (Interesting Nonfiction for Kids), the author notes that one educator has pointed out the lack of multicultural diversity in the Appendix and suggested alternatives.  These are currently being considered for inclusion in a revision, suggesting a continuing evolution and adaptation of the Standards.  

The Horn Book Nonfiction Notes is a great way to keep up with new non-fiction books, as well as offering a wealth of back matter on the nonfiction world and the emergence of the Common Core. 
  
All this discussion about the increasing importance of nonfiction is not just wishful thinking on the part of nonfiction authors.  Understanding and referring to the Common Core Standards can be a useful tool in marketing your manuscript (see Gale’s post from October 28 "Added Attractions Necessary?").  Forty-five states have adopted the Standards.  These shifts in thinking will pervade the publishing industry. 

If you’ve been toying with the idea of non-fiction, it might be a good time to jump on this bandwagon. 


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15. Favorite Writing Tips

Nathan Bransford's contest to win a Kindle in honor of his new book How to Write a Novel is over, but he's published many of the "Favorite Writing Tips" he received as contest entries.

I quoted Lela, the winner, in my comment to J.A's post last Wednesday: "Write. Write poorly, but WRITE."

But there are other gems . . .

Take a look at this list of  "Favorite Writing Tips."

I love the one from Ashley: "If you don't love what you wrote, why should anyone else?"

Which one is your favorite?



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16. NaNoWriMo...Specifically

I've started NaNoWriMo a few times before, but never got further than around 5000 words. This year, I'm still behind, but I've written 14,046 words. If I write just under 2000 words a day, I can finish on time.

But do I still want to?
This is the thirteenth day of the month. I think I've written something on this NaNo project on 11 of those days. But so far, I've only enjoyed two writing days -- the first day, when I got to write my new beginning, set up my inciting incident and unveil it, and today, when I pretended I had written nothing else since then.

You see, I am totally sure that just about everything I've written between November 2 and today is pure, unusable crap.

And I'm okay with that.

I'm okay with using NaNo as a writing exercise. I'm okay with never looking at it again. I'm okay with deleting the file. That is correct -- I could delete all 50,000 words (assuming I finish) and never regret it. I've killed my darlings before. I'm prepared to slaughter these.

I still love my idea. And despite my crappy writing, I'm getting to know more about my characters. And the scene I wrote this morning, where my MC stared at the pink smudge of nail polish on the dashboard and remembered her sister's pedi on the drive to the beach -- that told me I was getting to know them. That was specific. I love specific.

So from now on, I'm forgetting about writing as I usually do, one chapter after another. I plan to pick a moment in time on my MC's journey and write it. And I plan to be specific about at least one thing.

And when I'm done with NaNo, I'll compile those specific things into a bible, and then I'll start all over again. I won't care about those 50,000 words, but I'll make sure they weren't a waste of time. I'll make sure I dig for specifics.

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17. Making Time to Write

I do a lot of my writing when I'm inspired. An idea takes hold of me and I just can't stop writing.

This is a very fun kind of writing to do.  My writing tends to just flow.

But I often don't dedicate nearly as much time to writing as I would like to do. Life keeps getting in the way.

Recently I was able to dedicate one evening a week just to writing. An evening to myself! When I could focus all my time on writing. It sounded like heaven. But...


when I sat down to this wonderful evening I couldn't think of anything to write about.

Uh-oh! Was this going to work?

It had to! So I started to make lists. Lists of projects I had worked on in the past that I might want to get back to.

One project rekindled my interest. I had loved the idea but I knew I was approaching it from the wrong angle. And (at the time) I couldn't figure out what the right angle was.  

So I started trying to give the project a fresh start. I started the project several times that evening and finally I came up with an angle... an angle that could really work.

Then I went back to inspired writing filling every spare minute. So much fun!

But if I hadn't made the time to write and stared at that blank computer screen--  this exciting project would never have been written.

So, how do you make time to write? What do you do when inspiration won't come?

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18. Falling in Love

I asked my husband at dinner, what's your favorite character in literature? After convincing him that Alfred Sloan ("My years at General Motors") was not what I was looking for, he came up with Faust. He said, "I like characters with whom I can identify."

Granted, I could understand Sloan (my husband is a linear businessman) and not so much Faust (my husband is not that consummate a businessman, selling his soul, etc., but at least he picked a character with hopes and faults; in this instance, faults too great to save his soul.

Creating a sympathetic main character or characters is the writer's biggest challenge. Somewhere between nice and nasty is a good beginning…you want your reader to like her, and yet if the heroine is too nice, your reader will figure that there is no point in reading further. Nothing of interest is going to happen. Too nasty, and the reader will also lose interest. Newspapers have more to offer.

The writer must create is a heroine who knows what she wants, but whose human weaknesses prevent her from achieving them…initially. As a reader we want to be one step ahead of the heroine. We want to see her mistakes, to say, "wait, that's not such a smart move"  And we want to cheer her on when she finally makes the right choice. In the end, we want to identify completely with her, to fall in love a little with her even. And when the book ends, we want to find it hard to say goodbye.

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19. They Come to Me for Nonfiction Now


At our meeting last month, a topic that came up was the issue of using a nonfiction author's note with a fiction text. As Gale noted, it's possible that her offer to include map skills with a fiction submission helped get it accepted, but the her short tale retelling was a pleasure to read, so we really don't know. Anyway, I offered to post my two cents, for whatever it's worth, here, on how I see Common Core affecting publishing and the use of nonfiction texts in schools. I don't purport to be an expert on this, but I have about ten years of recommending, and selecting children's books and this is what I have come up with:

Common Core, the shorter term for what are the newly implemented (in most states) national standards for education, has a lot of very wise people for and against it. I'm not going to go into these reasons here, and in any case, it's here and educators have to deal with it. 

On the librarian side, CC has been viewed with cautionary optimism because of its emphasis on the use of nonfiction text in the classroom. School librarians have been happily pushing high-quality nonfiction books on their students for years, even while the classroom collections had very little of it (something like 93% fiction/7% nonfiction according to some studies) and classroom teachers were insisting that all classroom reading assignments be "chapter books." (which we generally call general and genre fiction). I can't tell you how many times I had a student eagerly choose a nonfiction book and have his teacher make him exchange it for a fiction one.

With the implementation of Common Core, however, that has changed--students AND teachers are asking for nonfiction as well, and any experienced librarian will know what to recommend. In my case, the administration is, for the first time, coming to me to help select nonfiction, and teachers are using the library more often for it. And, the proliferation of standardized tests and dry and unimaginative "informative text" notwithstanding, we know that for the last 15 years or so, there has been more and more excellent nonfiction out there. And now we are happy to share our expertise on it. 

Which brings me to the publishing side. The bad side of CC is that the testing companies had way too much control of its program and implementation and are profiting handsomely off it at the expense of authentic learning. On the positive side, the new emphasis on nonfiction is probably good news for children's publishing. After what was probably a dry spell due to the recession and budget cuts and rash of school library closures, I suspect that children's nonfiction publishers such Capstone and Heinemann are probably doing much better. There is a market for children's nonfiction now that does not depend solely on school libraries and their budgets (whose situation has, unfortunately, not improved). Now, schools are scrambling to get nonfiction into their classrooms and asking their librarians, who knew about nonfiction all along, for help. That is partly why I have been so insanely busy the past two months, my fellow writing group members :)

The point is, there has always been excellent children's nonfiction out there, and often mixes of fiction and nonfiction. The Janell Cannon books come to mind--here you have a fictional story, with extensive notes on the animal world in the rear. Last week I was reading Jan Brett's The Three Little Dassies, a Three Pigs version set in Namibia, and even this story had brief notes about the setting and animals in the end. Judy Freeman's Best Books of the Year list always included nonfiction works. As prolific adult readers we often delve into history and politics and memoir, and we all know kids (usually boys) who don't like to read fiction but are perfectly happy delving into a how-to manual. In the realm of biography, children's publishing has expanded from book about famous people (e.g., George Washington and Rosa Parks) to people who were used-to-be-famous but are now forgotten, people who were famous but in their limited circles, to people who were thought not to be of interest to children but actually are, and to people who were a little-bit-but-not-all-that famous--biographies like these WORK not because their subjects are on the curriculum but because their stories became fascinating in the hands of a good author. 

So, if you are writing a children's fictional picture book that includes a particular setting, or particular creature, or refers offhand to a period of time or clothing or figure, don't be afraid to include that author's note at the end. Your book might just be happily read by a student--and happily used by a teacher. Just do it well. I see a lot of "author's notes" that are too lengthy, or way above the companion story in reading level (a problem with Cannon books), or too boring...as with any writing, there's good, bad and in between. My point, however, is that there may be, dare I say, a greater market for it now. 


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20. Added Atrractions Necessary? Part II

                                                               


 Received a contract last week for "Two Young Frogs: An Old Japanese Tale." (Post of 10/17) Those frogs will appear in Highlights someday. Perhaps mentioning map skills did help.

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21. Liebster Award!


Thank you so much to Brianna Caplan Sayres of Brianna’s Book Stop for nominating The Paper Wait for a Liebster Award!  The Liebster Award is fun honor given to blogs that deserve more followers – thanks Brianna!  On behalf of the Paper Wait group, I accept. 

Now to answer all those questions Brianna asked…

1.     If you could be an animal what would it be?    An elephant – they have a great memory, have unique talents (their trunk can push over a tree, or pick up a single piece of straw - how cool is that?), they love their babies, and, the best thing, they never worry about their weight – they’re supposed to be that size. I‘d love that.

2.     What is your favorite part about blogging?
It forces me to think critically and more broadly about children’s writing; and it keeps me connected to a larger community in what can be a solitary task.

3.     What is your biggest writing challenge?
Keeping my bottom in the chair.  I am prone to distraction.

4.     What writing book/conference/website would you tell other children’s writers to read/attend/visit?
Book – Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott
Conference – our local NJ SCBWI conference does a great job of getting editors, agents and writers together
Website – Verla Kay’s Blue Board

5.     What advice do you wish someone would have given you when you started writing?
Write badly, write worse, and keep going.  Don't stop in the middle because you're worried about every word choice and sentence structure -- finish it.  You can fix it later. (that's what revision is for).  Great writers write awful stuff too.    

6.     What book (or books) do you wish you would have written?
Some Dogs Do by Jez Alborough (picture book); and probably Charlotte’s Web, for middle grade

7.     What are you most proud of
Besides my kids, hmmmm, ask me again after I publish my first book. 

8.     If you could travel anywhere in the world, where would you go?  So many places… SouthAfrica (wildlife and wine); Petra, Jordan (city of stone); Israel (Holy Land)

9.     Book you most love to re-read?
Maybe not ‘read’ but I love delving into the Children’s Writers & Illustrator’s Market – despite many rejections, that list of publishers always fills me with optimism.  There's got to be somebody out there  who will love my manuscript.

10.  What question do you wish I would have asked you? Please answer it.
Something really easy, like... yes, I'd love another cup of tea! 

Thanks again, Brianna. 

Here are my nominations for the Liebster Award:

Nominees, if you choose to accept, link back to the blogger who tagged you.  Nominate 5 to 10 other blogs with less than 200 members and answer the questions of the one who tagged you.  Then ask 10 questions for the bloggers you nominate; and let your nominee know of their award.

Here are my questions for those of you who choose to accept the award:

1. Where is your favorite place to write?
2. What’s the worst advice you’ve ever received?
3. When you were a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up?
4. What’s your favorite book(s)?
5. What’s in your TBR pile?
6. If you could live anywhere in the world, where would it be?
7. What distracts you most from writing?
8. What is your biggest source of inspiration?
9.  Why do you blog?  
10. Share one of your quirky writing habits…


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22. Companions Along the Journey

Let me introduce you to my writing partner: 


Max has been a part of our family for close to fourteen years now.  He was a gift for my son on his fifth birthday, but I’ll let you in on a little secret. 

That was just a ruse. 

He’s mine.    The moment he bounced out of his travel crate and into my arms, he’s had me wrapped around his dewclaw.   (My son received a bunch of Pokemon stuff that year too, so we’re even.)  During the day when I write, Max is my constant companion.  Warming my feet, reminding me to get fresh air and exercise or letting me know, with a gentle nudge, when it’s time for lunch or a break.  He’s also a fabulous listener.  I’ve talked through many a plot twist with him as he sat patiently; wise brown eyes reminding me to kill my darlingsWhen I took the picture above, that was exactly how I found him.  Why he likes to have his paws on things, I don’t know, but I love his face – it’s like we’ve got some serious editing to do and you think it’s time for a snack?    Just this morning as I poured myself a cup of coffee, he paced around my feet, anxious to get to work.  Work for me being this writing thing, work for him sitting with me, curled up in a blanket and dozing to the sound of my tapping keyboard.  



Sometimes I wonder who has the better end of this deal.

I’m not alone.  Many writers through the years have had beloved animal companions.  Charles Dickens had a pet raven named Grip.  Elizabeth Barrett Browning had a cocker spaniel named Flush.  And Ernest Hemingway had so many cats there are still ancestors of them roaming around the grounds of his historic home in Key West, FL.

For me, Max is a reminder that even though this writing life can be a solitary one, I’m not alone.  And any time it all becomes a tiny bit frustrating or I get stuck – a brisk walk, nap time, or allowing myself time to play – is all it takes to make it better.

So how about you?  Do you have any animal companions?  Why do you think animals and writers make great friends? 


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23. Added Attractions Necessary?

                                                                   


I recently finished retelling an old Japanese folktale. It was critiqued (thanks!) and then submitted to a magazine. It's the story of two frogs, one from the west (Osaka), and one from the east (Kyoto), whose curiosity about new places inspires them to travel. One spring day, they meet on a mountain - one traveling east and one traveling west. Tired and hungry, they devise a plan to view their destinations from the mountain top; to anticipate the new sights at journey's end. But their plan goes wrong - each frog looks in the direction of home! So discovering no new sights, they abort all travel plans. Their curiosity gone, they hop home, never to travel again.

To me, the story is humorous and passes the "so what?" test, but in my submission letter I mentioned an added curriculum-related attraction.

Map skills. Knowing some children have a hard time learning west vs. east, I suggested the story be illustrated with a simple outline map of Japan showing the two cities in the story, Osaka in the west and Kyoto in the east.

In this tough market, and with Common Core Standards adopted in some states, simply retelling an enjoyable folktale, or crafting an engaging PB story may not be enough. Our writing world is buzzing about non-fiction and teaching guides for fiction and even PB's. Added attractions have always been a plus, but are they now a necessity?

What do you think?

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24. Defining YA

A few weeks ago, PW Shelftalker asked a simple question with a not-so-simple answer -- how do you define YA? They asked their readers to contribute their thoughts to craft the ultimate definition of YA. I did, and guess what? They liked me, they really liked me!

I am one of three contributors whose responses were merged into one ultimate YA definition:

If youth was measured by a clock, and the end were to occur when both hands struck twelve, then YA stories are those that take place between 11:59 and a couple seconds after midnight. They end when the protagonist  has a foot – or maybe just a toe – planted on both sides of the innocence/experience fence. First or third person, present or past tense can all be YA. What is important is the immediacy of the story and the point of view of the teen. YA lit speaks to the teenager, current or past, in its readers, regardless of the protagonist’s age.

Can you tell which sentences were mine? Without clicking and peeking? 

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25. Books (When It's Done), parody of Cups (When I'm Gone) by Sue Fliess, ch...


Hope you all enjoyed this awesome video from children's book author, Sue Fliess! I think it is amazing!

(Lately all the kids I know are singing this tune, but this is my favorite version.)

Enjoy!

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