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Scholastic Book Fair I'm working the Scholastic Book Fair at my daughter's school again this week. Even though I just placed an online order, I'm sure I'll be buying more books.
Cricket's Drive Around Town This weekend I got the color illustrations for my upcoming picture book and they blew my mind. This book is going to be so adorable!
Into the Fire I just sent my edits off to my editor this past weekend for Into the Fire, which is coming in January 2014 through Month9Books. And I updated my FB author page so the gorgeous cover is on there. :)
Stalked by Death ARC My Stalked by Death ARC arrived on Saturday! Squee! I thought I wasn't getting it until BEA, so I'm really excited to get to hold my pretty book!
Advantage: Heartbreak Less than 10 days until the release of Advantage: Heartbreak, novella #2 in the Game. Set. Match. Heartbreak series. Yay!
Last weekend was my alma mater’s high school graduation. A thrilling, momentous (and gorgeous) day! It made me think back to my own graduation and the fact that what scared me at 18 scares me still: moving forward into the unknown. In fact, if I could go back and give myself advice it would probably be this: The future is scary. It never stops being scary. Get used to it. And don’t be scared.
Don’t get me wrong, I was excited to leave high school, to venture out of state to college, to make new friends and take classes towards two majors I was passionate about (screenwriting! creative writing! so much writing!). But I was also terrified. My high school was a cocoon of all that was familiar and comfortable and good. Not that every day was bliss. There were fights and tears and stress. But what I realized on graduation night was that I wasn’t ready to leave. I’m never ready to leave: not school, not a party, not vacation. I’m not ready to leave for work in the morning, and I’m not ready to leave work in the afternoon. And I’m NEVER ready to go to bed at night, no matter how tired I feel.
I spent much of the summer before college doing what I loved: reading–and finally there was no required reading. Free to read what I wanted, I think I read nothing but Orson Scott Card. I’m not going to get political here because this was during an innocent time before the internet gobbled me whole, so these books were merely the words on the page and what I brought to them.
I remember it so clearly. I was sitting on the deck at my parents’ house, feeling sorry for myself because in a few months time I would be far away from the beautiful rolling hills, when I came to one specific passage.
Alvin grimaced at him. ‘Taleswapper, I’m not ready to leave home yet.’
‘Maybe folks have to leave home before they’re ready, or they never get ready at all.”
I stopped and read it again. Because although I had not named it out loud, that was me. I was Alvin. And Taleswapper’s words were exactly what I needed to hear: it’s okay to be scared. It’s okay to not feel ready. Because if you wait to feel ready, then you’ll be waiting forever. Sometimes you have to jump out of the plane and trust that your parachute will open.*
*(Please note, I have never been sky diving, but I know someone who has, so that’s almost the same thing, right?)
It’s funny to think back to that day, because it it planted a seed which has motivated me many times since. Not always, of course. Sometimes I still chicken out. But sometimes when anxiety refuses to release its stranglehold: a new relationship, a new job, a new adventure–I find myself thinking back to those wise words, and I realize that I will be okay, because I’m always okay.
And if Orson Scott Card is not your bent, a good friend of mine recently gave me a new mantra, one that she repeats to her daughter whenever she is scared worried. “You are BRAVE. You are STRONG. You are WONDERFUL. And YOU will be fine.” What better words could you ever need?
There are so many things I could have missed out on, if I gave into fear:
So do you embrace the future at full tilt? Or are you worry-wart* like me?
*(Officially diagnosed by my 5th grade teacher, Mrs. Burton. Thanks for that.)
I've been wanting to write for a very long time now. And I don't mean blog pots---I mean actual writing-- as in a story of my own. I don't think you can read as much as I do and love reading as much a I do and not eventually, somewhere deep down, start to think that maybe you, too, have a story to tell.
The urge to write is a funny thing to a person who doesn't write. It's like a lifelong vegetarian suddenly getting a craving for pot roast. You've never eaten it before, so it's pretty freaking strange that your body (or imagination) is telling you that you want it.
Writing has always been an awesomely cool idea to me. But having never done it before, it remains a Schrödinger's cat of mystery. If I never open the box I'll never know if I'm a good writer or a bad writer. Of course it's a defense mechanism to protect the gee-golly hope that maybe I am a good writer! This is a problem. Because unless I actually try it, my writing will not just be an unknown neutral, it will be both good AND bad, as both exist as true until proven otherwise.
But how do I try? How do I begin? Writing a story is so unbelievably daunting. How do authors know where to begin and where they want to end up? How do they craft the plot? How do they imagine all those beautiful little moments that reveal character or move the story along? How do I write a story if I don't know exactly where I want to go with it? There are so many unknowns and that is SCARY.
It was then, in this moment of panic-- that I had a moment of clarity:
Writing a story is and always will be infinitely intimidating.
So stop thinking about it that way, and find a new way to look at it:
Think about writing as taking a trip.
When you go on vacation, you know where your initial destination is, you know who you're traveling with, and you know when you expect to return. The rest of it---the unplanned, the unknown, is THE REASON you take the trip. You'll see a new place, and have new experiences. Things will happen. By the end of the vacation, you will have amassed a story to tell. It could be dull, it could be thrilling. Either way, you will have a beginning, middle, and an end. If you knew every detail that would unfold before you took the trip, you probably wouldn't feel the need to go anymore. The mystery of possibility makes the trip fun to live through. The same is true for the one writing the story, and the one reading the story.
We're both embarking on a trip with my characters. We know where our journey begins but we don't know what we'll go through together before we get back. We'll see new places, meet new people, be thrown into unfamiliar situations. The way we handle ourselves will inevitably reveal character. The things that happen will become plot.
Write, and things will happen. That's all there is to it.
So yesterday afternoon, lead by a force deep down in my gut that I could no longer ignore, I tried IT. Pencil to paper. Excited by possibility, terrified by expectation...
Writer Jordana Horn went into her son’s class, filled with seven and eight year-old kids, earlier this month to lead a session on journaling. She asked the students to write what they don’t… Read More →
Today Deb Gaby and I finished leading the third day of a three-day Foundations of Writing Workshop training. At the end, we asked for reflections. Teacher after teacher commented on the impact of… Read More →
Mary Zisk attended the Highlights Novel Writing Workshop at the end of last year, so I asked her if she would share her experience with us. I think you will enjoy hearing about it and what she learn.
Pumped Up in the Poconos By Mary Zisk (back row with yellow scarf)
“Work on voice—like a girl talking to her best friend.”
“Focus on characterization—your characters feel a bit stock. Bottom line: it’s your job to entertain.”
“Is this a historical novel or a novel that takes place in a historic time? There’s a difference.”
“Make your novel shorter and characters younger. Forget boyfriends. Add touches of fantasy.” (Whaaa?)
“I lived through the sixties. Why would I want to read about it?”
That’s what I heard at last year’s NJSCBWI Conference in June. After critiques from an author, an editor, a consultant, a publisher, and an agent pitch for my middle grade novel, my head was spinning like a boardwalk Tilt-a-Whirl.
But there was a hopeful note. At the end of each critique, I said “I’m thinking of illustrating my novel.”
“Hmm, that could work,” they all said.
So I literally went back to the drawing board to approach my novel illustratively. I kept drawing and writing and revising and characterizing and revising and plotting and revising. By winter, I had written my novel to the end, with illustrations for the first three chapters.
The 2013 NJSCBWI Conference was still five, long months away, which would be the next opportunity to meet with the pros to discuss my novel. Suspended in limbo, waiting for June, I cleaned the subterranean hoard known as my basement.
But the Universe pulled me out of limbo (and my basement) and led to me the Highlights Foundation Whole Novel Workshop: Middle Grade. I had heard writing friends reminisce about the Highlights Writing Workshop in Chautauqua, NY. Their eyes would glaze over with a combination of reverence and rapture. “Instructive. Inspiring. Life-changing,” they sighed.
“Huh, I need that,” I thought. “Now!”
No one had ever read my entire novel past the usual 15 or 30 pages. Hot-cha-cha, this workshop would be perfect! I’d return either pumped up or deflated.
The Highlights Foundation www.highlightsfoundation.org no longer has an annual workshop in Chautauqua, but instead, has more than thirty, short (three to seven days), theme-focused workshops throughout the year at their conference center outside of Honesdale, Pennsylvania, home of the Highlights office. The Whole Novel Workshop promised three author faculty members, one of whom would be my personal “reader.” Plus (GET THIS!), I’d have my own private, “rustic” cabin for writing and contemplation.
Author Alan Gratz www.alangratz.com was assigned as my reader. I immediately googled him and found that Alan had written sports novels and murder mysteries. I fretted. Could he relate to my female, coming-of-age 12-year-old, aspiring-artist, main character? Absolutely! Before the workshop, Alan sent me a six-page, single-spaced letter thoroughly critiquing my novel, and his insights were spot on. We had a strong starting point for renovating my novel at the workshop.
The week started with a face-to-face with our reader, which I wanted to be honest and blunt—no pain, no gain. Alan hit me with the difficulties of selling a book set in the sixties (no agent will touch it). Why did I choose that time period? Should it be contemporary instead? I stuck with the sixties. Look at The Wednesday Wars or Dead End in Norvelt.
We dug into the meat-and-potatoes of my novel (although Alan only eats pizza). Alan thought the novel started with a strong goal and then dropped away for 25 pages. My novel’s chronology had always been a struggle, especially finding my beginning. I could wallpaper a bathroom with all the “first pages” I’ve written over the years (a master-suite bathroom, not just a powder room). I retreated to my cabin to wrestle with the chronology, conferred with Alan again, then back to the cabin to move chapters around and write a new first chapter. Hot dog! The beginning pieces of my plot snapped together. On to the rest.
Alan felt my novel continued at a nice pace, with conflicts, ups and downs, good humor, and heart. He questioned some of my decisions: Are the seventh graders too savvy about art? Is the lightning strike and resulting fire an unrealistic act of God? Is the reference to Vietnam intrusive, not instructive? Would today’s tween really know who Pepe Le Pew is?
Again, back to the cabin.
Later in the week, Alan made a masterful plot presentation to all of the participants using the hero’s journey and Star Wars. The other faculty members also made presentations: Tami showed us the advantages of storyboarding both actions and emotions, from first epiphany, through attempts and failures, recommitment, the depths of despair, victory, and resolution. Alex took us into a deep analysis of text, like the Double Duty Detail that puts details to work in many ways, flashbacks that are triggered by an object (I used this), and that chapter names, not numbers, generate a cognitive response in the reader.
Throughout the week, talking during meals at a large communal table, gathering in the sitting room, or working alone in our cabins, we were immersed in the craft of writing and nothing else (although I did sneak in a couple of posts to Facebook). On our final night, each participant read a few pages aloud from their novel. I discovered I had a gift for voices (maybe I should only do an audio book). Then we shared what our plan would be when we got home.
My plan was to:
1. Work on voice;
2. Illustrate my novel’s most compelling events as seen through my MC’s eyes
3. Attend the NJSCBWI Conference in June to improve my novel through more critiques (I’ll pitch it as “Ellie McDoodle meets The Wednesday Wars”)
Not only did that week in the woods solidify my novel, it gave me confidence in my skills. I arrived at Boyds Mills a participant and I went home a writer.
Next step: I plan to make merry with the New Jersey Tribe at the Conference! See you there!
Mary Zisk is the author/illustrator of The Best Single Mom in the World: How I Was Adopted (A. Whitman & Co.). During the day, she is a magazine art director trying to hold on to the use of illustration in print. The rest of the time, she writes and illustrates picture books and middle grade novels. www.maryzisk.com
Thank you Mary for sharing this very well written, interesting, and informative article with us. I love your idea of illustrating your middle grade novel and I love the humor in your illustrations. I can see how much your style has grown since I featured you on Illustrator Saturday in July of 2010. http://kathytemean.wordpress.com/2010/07/03/illustrator-saturday-mary-zisk/
Joanna Rossiter is the author of The Sea Change (her first novel). She grew up in Dorset and studied English at Cambridge University before working as a researcher in the House of Commons and as a copy writer. In 2011 she completed an MA in Writing at Warwick University. She lives and writes in London. Last week The Sea Change was announced as one of the Richard and Judy Summer 2013 Book Club titles. Here Joanna expands on some common misconceptions about the wonderful world of writers.
The Sea Change by Joanna Rossiter
1. Being an author is glamorous.
Before I had managed to write a book, I had an
image of what an author should be in my mind that was something akin to Ewan
McGregor in Moulin Rouge; sitting down melancholically in the middle of the
night at his type writer with the Eiffel Tower outside his window and, after a
sip of absinth, typing the words ‘This is a story about love’.
In reality, novels are rarely the results of
flashes of inspiration, although they may often begin this way. I like to think
of them as a long-standing marriage; the writer weds themselves to one
particular idea and then sticks with it through thick and thin, through romance
and conflict – times when they wish they could separate and times when they
feel like they want to do nothing else but spend time together. Sometimes
writing is a lonely business – to finish a book, authors must spend days and evenings
in a room on their own filling their head with made-up people. Often, there’s
little chance for genuine feedback until the book is complete and nobody except
the writer can see the full picture until the book is written. There is a lot of hard graft and very little
glamour, but it’s worth it for the satisfaction of a well-told story.
2. Authors are full of new ideas.
It has been said that all the plots in the world
can be summarized in one of two phrases: ‘A stranger comes to town’ or ‘a hero
leaves home’. Whilst I wouldn’t go this
far, I would argue that modern day culture places a lot of emphasis on
originality when, more often than not, stories are found rather than invented.
Shakespeare wrote most of his plays from stories he had come across elsewhere;
renaissance writers recognised that the talent of a writer lies not as much in
the chosen story but in the way that story is told.
3. Authors don’t read reviews of their own
Given than my first novel only
came out last Thursday, I have had very limited experience of this! However,
already I’m finding that the desire for feedback from readers has overtaken my
fear of reading a bad review. Authors spend long spells alone with their books
in order to get them written and it’s a joy when we finally get to meet people
who have read our books and hear what they have to say about them. Every writer
writes for a reader, whether they admit it or not.
Note from the Editor: You can read Richard and Judy's reviews of The Sea Change here.
4. Authors write word-perfect first drafts.
Novels are born out of an
enduring desire to persevere with an idea until it is fully realized on the
page. I spend far more time editing than
I do writing; for me, it’s the most satisfying part of creating a book. Once
the bones of the story are on paper, it’s a great feeling to be able to start
drawing out a structure and looking for the hidden meanings in each scene. I
often don’t know exactly what a story is trying to say until I have written a
first draft; the imagery and echoes and symbols that I want to build on
only become clear when I start to edit.
5. Authors never plan their books.
Even though a lot of a story’s nuances can’t
be determined until it is written, authors still put large amounts of time and
energy into planning their novels before they put pen to paper. The level of
detail varies from author to author but I would say that it’s almost impossible
to write an engaging novel without a plan to follow. Without a preconceived
plot structure, it is difficult to convince the reader early on in the novel
that you, the author, know where the story is going and have control over its
outcome. It’s like being on a rollercoaster; for the reader it’s great fun not
knowing where the twists and turns lie but the ride can only be enjoyed if the
reader is confident that the author has built a trustworthy track for the story
6. A book can be written in a month.
Initiatives like NaNoWriMo are a wonderful tool
for helping people get started on books and cultivating the commitment required
to finish them. However, they are also misleading in the perception they create
about novels. Contrary to what they suggest, I think it’s impossible to write
anything readable in a month (others may prove me wrong!). Novels, like wine,
need time to mature. They need to be laid to rest and then picked back up again
at a later date in order to be read and edited with a fresh, objective mind.
7. Having a story to tell is the only
ingredient required to write a book.
The most common response I get when I tell
people that I’m an author is not ‘what do you write about?’; it’s actually
something along the lines of ‘I’ve got a great idea for a novel myself; I’d
turn it into a book if I had the time.’
One of the wonderful things about writing is how accessible it is:
unlike paint or a musical instrument, language is a tool that the majority of
us use on a daily basis. As a result, there is an unspoken assumption that any
one of us could write a book if we had the time. I do believe that anyone can learn to craft a
good story, just like anyone can learn a musical instrument. However, there is
a craft involved and this craft takes more than time; it takes practice. You
wouldn’t expect someone who had never played the trumpet before to pick one up
and come out with perfect jazz. Similarly, stories require skill and
perseverance and they are as much a practiced art as music or sculpture.
8. If an author’s book is good enough, it will
There can be a lot of snobbery on
the side of published authors towards unpublished authors. And yet, the fact
that a certain author is published is not just down to the quality of their
writing; as a published author myself, I would be the first to admit that at
some point along the line, there is an element of chance involved. Editors are
inundated with manuscripts on a weekly basis. My own editor is sent ten
manuscripts from new authors via literary agents every week and, out of those
manuscripts, she publishes only three or four a year. There are far more
publishable manuscripts out there than there is scope for publishing them. A whole host of factors outside of a writer’s
hands go into the decision to publish a book: from the extent to which a story
resonates with the culture of the time to its appeal to a particular audience
to whether or not it complements the other books on that publisher’s list. As
much as editors want to nurture new talent, publishing is a profit making
venture and one eye always has to be kept on the ability of a book to generate
sales. Yes, there are plenty of
manuscripts that are turned down because they are poorly written but there are
also thousands that are rejected for reasons outside of an author’s control. A
large part of me does want to believe that a good book will always find a way through
9. Authors are creative types who don’t care
about the bottom line.
We all dream of making a living from the thing
we love to do the most and authors are no different. Whilst we can convince
ourselves that it isn’t about the sales, which writer would turn down the
chance to have a bestseller? With the move into the digital space squeezing the
amount of money a writer makes from each book, it’s not a career that is
entered into for financial security. In most cases, it’s a hand-to-mouth profession
that goes alongside a series of other day jobs.
However, writers, like everybody else, will (albeit sometimes secretly)
welcome the affirmation that good sales figures bring. Popularity is not always
seen as a good thing in the literary world: literature that is valuable and
literature that is popular are often viewed as being in contention with each
other. Yet, deep down, I don’t think any
author would turn their nose up at the prospect of more readers, a higher
profile for their writing and, yes, a royalty statement that doesn’t make you
want to weep into your green tea.
10. Novels are always, in some shape or form,
All authors ‘borrow’ aspects or experiences from
their own lives when they write. In order to create compelling characters,
writers often need to be able to relate to the characters themselves and this
can mean incorporating into them certain traits that we have seen in our own
lives or in others. Whilst stories have their root in the author’s personal
experience, they often grow into something else entirely. I’m a great believer
in readers forming the meaning of a story for themselves; it’s more about the
experiences that they bring to the page than it is about the author’s. In fact,
I as a writer can often only spot the resonances of a particular novel to my
own life once I have written it and become a reader myself. A good author can
present their reader with a carefully chosen set of ingredients that complement
each other; but, more often than not, it’s the reader who decides what to
Friend of the blog Tony DiMeo sent a link to In a post titled
Something Has to Happen by author Alexandra Sokoloff.
She offers choice observations, insights, and tips on what’s needed in your
novel’s opening to keep the reader reading. You’ve heard much of this from me,
but I thought a fresh perspective might help.
Although her blog is titled Screenwriter Tips and she is the
author of Screenwriting Tips for Authors (and Screenwriters),
Alex is also the Thriller Award-winning and Bram Stoker, Anthony, and Black
Quill Award-nominated author of supernatural thrillers and other fiction.
In reading through a bunch of thriller ebooks, Alex noted
There was something I was noticing in book after book that I
started and then discarded last night that was just a structural error that
could so easily have been fixed to - I think - increase the number of people
who would want to keep reading. It's pretty simple, really.
I couldn't figure out what the book was about.
Or why I should care, either.
Sound familiar? She notes the following (there’s a lot more
about each item on her post, this is just a listing of the things she discusses):
Reading a bunch of first chapters in a row points out a lot
of common errors, actually.
1. Inexperienced writers almost inevitably START THEIR STORIES IN THE WRONG
2. NEVER MIND THE FUCKING BACKSTORY!!!!!
3. IDENTIFY THE SENSATION AND EXPERIENCE YOU WANT TO EVOKE IN YOUR READER – AND
THEN MAKE SURE YOU’RE EVOKING IT.
4. USE ALL SIX SENSES.
5. SHOW, DON’T TELL.
6. DETAIL THE INTERNAL DRIVES OF YOUR CHARACTER AND SET THE GENRE.
“Flogging the Quill teaches true lessons about different aspects of writing, but in a way that is at once humorous and informative rather than a dry statement of facts. There are plentiful examples all throughout the book, as well as a place to practice what you've learned. In all, I highly recommend this book for people wanting to begin writing, or those who simply wish to learn how to improve their craft.” Arwen
It’s the last day of April, which means another chance to pat myself on the back for meeting a writing goal. As a 12 x 12 participant, I am writing 12 books over 12 months. I’m pleased to announce that I made great progress this month. In March, I didn’t quite finish Crabby Cathy, so that story was the one I worked on first. Though I had been very discouraged about writing in general through part of the month, after much prayer and some great encouragement, I completed Cathy’s story. I’ll see what my critique group thinks of it.
Next, I moved on to a story that is tentatively titled, The Other Sister’s Story. This is the Cinderella story from one of the stepsister’s perspectives. I’ve seen a book written from the stepmother’s point of view - http://www.amazon.com/Seriously-Cinderella-Annoying-Wicked-Stepmother/dp/1404870482/ – but not one of the sisters. The first challenge was that I didn’t know if the sisters had names in any of the stories other than the Disney movie version. This was truly a departure from my usual message type book. This one is just meant to entertain. It’s something I’ve never done before and that makes me a bit nervous. What was encouraging, however, is how much my girls liked it. They haven’t read the entire story, yet–I typed “The End” last night–but I’m going to share it with them today and see what they think. This is by far my favorite story and I already have an agent in mind to which I would like to submit it.
For May, I am working on another untitled story that is a departure from my regular work. It is the story of an ingenious turkey who comes up with unique and funny ways to avoid being part of Thanksgiving dinner. This one should be a blast.
A few months ago, when Gangnam Style fever had kids ponying around the country, two baffled Fox News pinheads personalities debated the song’s appeal.
“I think what this fella Psy is tapping into…is the fact that people don’t want any meaning right now. The most popular music apparently is that without intelligible words…not reality, not feeling, not meaning.”
“So it means nothing…”
They never once considered that the song was in Korean and the gibberish they were hearing was indeed actual words in a different language, satirizing the wealthy Gangnam district of South Korea, an area obsessed with western culture.
From that mind-numbing discussion, they somehow segued into their perceived lack of meaning in children’s books.
Wait? What was that? No meaning in children’s books?! Oh yeah, the ignoramus commentator had a picture book rejected and was obviously still reeling from the sting.
“I had a little kids’ book I wrote; I sent it out to a few publishers. They bemoaned the fact…they said, gee, it seems like it has a message. I said, ‘Well, yeah, it’s about empowerment’. Well, books about messages right now aren’t selling.”
He then ridiculed WIMPY KID and OLIVIA, two of the best-selling children’s book series. (Probably because he didn’t think of them first.)
“Try to tell them about ‘courage’, that’s not going to be purchased by the great masses who now want not to be tapped on the heartstrings, if you will, but simply to be pushed toward ‘a good beat’.”
Darn straight, readers want a good beat. What they don’t want is to be beat over the head with a lesson you think they need to learn.
Message-driven picture books begin with the intention of teaching a life lesson, like how to have good manners. With the writer’s purpose being so righteous, the story can come across as preachy and self-important. Why don’t these books sell? Because they lack the one thing that kids really want: FUN. Think about it—children are being taught all day long—at home, at school, at places of worship. When they pick up a book, do you think they want to hear “remember to say please and thank you” yet again? If I were a kid, I’d shelve that book pronto. Kids want to be entertained.
Message-driven books are not subtle. They often contain the very phrase the writer intends to teach, like: “Just be nice and you’ll always have lots of friends!” This is the classic mistake of “telling” instead of “showing” with your words. It’s talking down to kids, it’s assuming they’re not intelligent creatures with limitless imaginations.
Not all books with messages are message-driven. In fact, the best books do contain messages, but they are subtly woven through a wondrous story rich in character, setting and action. Every good story contains a universal emotional truth—friendship, family, fitting in—that is slowly revealed through the main character’s journey. The character at the beginning of the book is not the same person by the end; they have been transformed. How have they changed? Within the answer lies the lesson. Character is paramount, not the message.
I’m going to leap upon my soapbox now. I believe children’s books should be fun-driven. If books are going to compete with computers, iProducts and video games, authors need to deliver an escape, a fantastical world where anything can and does happen. I write with fun in the forefront. I think back to my childhood and the things that I loved—like secret hideouts adults didn’t know existed. I was fascinated by Dahl’s chocolate factory and the fact that he chose a kid to run it. (I hope I didn’t spoil that for anyone. It has been almost 50 years since the book was released.) A kid in charge! Marvelous!
So let’s circle back—does DIARY OF A WIMPY KID have a message? It sure does. I can name a bunch: being yourself, persevering through difficult situations, being able to laugh at yourself. These are all important life lessons.
No one would call Jeff Kinney’s series “message-driven”, yet a lot of people mistake FUN books for being worthless teachers, for being meaningless. I beg to differ. (And I beg Fox News to get a clue.)
It’s time to do the exact opposite of writing message-driven books: assume kids are already smart as whips. (Believe me, they are.) A message-driven book isn’t going to teach them anything except to avoid reading. And that’s a lesson no one needs to learn!
Opening lines are difficult to craft well. That’s why they should usually be left until the revision layers. Why, you ask? Because you could spend a year of Sundays trying to craft the perfect sentence instead of writing the rest of the manuscript.
Opening sentences are crucial in Chapter One. They give your reader a taste of what is to come. They are worthwhile in the rest of your chapters if you are willing to invest the time. A good opening sentence raises a question or poses a challenge the reader can’t walk away from.
Closing sentences are equally important. They are what keep your readers turning the page to read one more chapter, then another and another until they reach the end. The final chapter’s final line should stick with your reader, offering them one last finger lick of deliciousness to polish off the fiction plate.
Let’s take a look at a few examples from books on my To Be Read pile. Which would you read first?
The Devil’s Bones, Larry D. Sweazy
Opening Line: “Tito Cordova sat on the porch steps, staring at the barren tomato field and empty migrant shacks across the road. Everyone had left for Florida, or Mexico, to spend the winter. He hugged his knees to his chest, trying to keep warm.”
Closing line: “Welcome home, Tito. Welcome home.”
We start with Tito; we end with Tito. The story comes full circle.
Never Tell, Alafair Burke
Opening Line: “It has been twenty years, but at three-fourteen this morning I screamed in my sleep. I probably would not have known I had screamed were it not for the nudge from my husband — my patient, sleep-starved husband, who suspects but can never really know the reasons for his wife’s night terrors, because his wife has never truly explained them.”
Closing Line: “George had said not all questions needed to be answered, but maybe some questions didn’t need to be asked. Maybe she was still getting to know herself after all.”
We begin with an unanswered question and end with the thematic statement that not all questions should be asked.
Dark Places, Gillian Flynn
Opening Line: I have a meanness inside me, real as an organ. Slit me at my belly and it might slide out, meaty and dark, drop on the floor so you could stomp on it.
Closing Line: I didn’t want to meet him, and I didn’t want to introduce myself. I just wanted to be some woman, heading back home to Over There That Way.
We begin with a ghoulish description. The ending sentence probably makes sense once you've read the book. It would have worked better for me if it had also been suitably ghoulish. However, both lines are in the main character's unique voice.
The Sounds of Broken Glass, Deborah Crombie
Opening Line: He sat on the steps of the house in Woodland Road, counting the bank notes he’d stored in the biscuit tin, all that was left of his mum’s wages. Frowning, he counted again. Ten pounds short. Oh, bloody hell. She’d found the new stash and pilfered it again.
Closing Line: He felt as if he were sleepwalking. Slowly he picked up the envelope, lifted the unsealed flap, and eased out a single sheet of paper. It was a letter of transfer. And his chief superintendent had signed it.
This book begins with backstory and ends with a line offering a view into the main character's future. The last line works better for me than the first, though the first line hints at a problem.
The Other Woman, Hank Phillippi Ryan
Opening Line: “Get that light out of my face! And get behind the tape. All of you. Now.'"Detective Jake Brogan pointed his own flashlight at the pack of reporters, its cold glow highlighting one news-greedy face after another in the October darkness.
Closing Line: Jane smiled as she picked up her tote bag. I have a story to cover. “They obviously made a mistake.”
The opening and closing lines are uttered by different characters but reference the eagerness of reporters.
Read through your completed manuscript. Write down the first and last lines of each chapter. Are they intriguing? Can you make them stronger?
I’m a runner, but to pay the bills I’m a writer. In doing some reading for work I came across an article highlighting a few of the traits that the author felt made Steve Jobs the incredible innovator that he was.
The thing is, be it a creative dreamer in the business world or a motivated runner with aspirations, many of the traits that will get you to the top in one apply to the other. A goal is a goal after all, being goal-driven and having the ability to persevere comes down to pretty much the same things.
The Entrepreneur article was a good read, but I found myself hearing echos of themes I’ve written about right here.
PASSION. Do what you love and regardless of outcome never forget that you love it. Running is wrought with highs and lows, to get through the tough times you need to remember that underneath it all, you really do have a genuine love for running in the purest form. Running fast is awesome, but running as a stand-alone needs to be your passion.
CURIOSITY. I’ll stretch this to mean more having the ability to wonder, “What can I do?” Run curious. Run for the journey of finding your best. Dream epic goals and go for them. Even if you fail you’re still better off than being moved to shoot for it.
NO FEAR. They say Jobs wasn’t afraid of failing, good. Because you shouldn’t be afraid, failures happen. They are unavoidable, you learn from failures and the epic fails of races and workouts make you BETTER. Or rather, they’ll make you better if you’re able to learn from them and apply those lessons going forward.
Running may be better different than business in a number of ways, but getting to the top of something takes the same qualities regardless. This works even if the ‘top’ is your personal best. That’s the remarkable thing about running, even if you’re never going to realistically set a World Record or win an Olympic Medal you can still take the journey. Have the courage, tenacity, and CURIOSITY to take the trek to find your best.
Run curious, my friends. Run without fear. Run with PASSION.
1) What is a trait that you had before you were a runner that has helped your running?
2) What is a trait that running has actually helped you acquire and hone?
This Monday I’m inspired by the Sea Otter Classic bicycle races I went to over the weekend at Laguna Seca. There’s a motto FOX, a bicycle shock manufacturer, has––Redefine your limitsit’s a fabulous way to start this week. Thinking about what’s beyond our limits. It’s something I like to write about. My characters try to redefine their limits. But, it’s not something I’ve really thought about lately in terms of myself.
What’s beyond your limits?
All of the riders were an inspiration, especially my daughter’s boyfriend, an enduro bike racer. The racers’ dedication and love of the sport is a joy. It’s fun to think about what lies beyond the things I think I can handle. That there might be something more I might try. Something more difficult than I ever thought I could ever pull off. I’m going to redefine my limits this week. I need the extra encouragement to meet deadlines, for sure. But creatively I think I’ll adjust my writing shocks so that I can navigate some steeper, gnarlier trails than I’m used to. Take more risks and thrill in the zesty downhill ride.
What’ a limit you want to redefine?
What I’m listening to as I edit this morning: Could I’ve been so blind by The Black Crowes
Time to get back to the old drawing board with your writing. Even if you don’t find this contest your cup of tea, at least start something new. It could be just the thing for the next contest. Maybe Barbara DiLorenza illustration below will inspire you. Barbara was featured on Illustrator Saturday on April 14th, 2012. Click Here to View.
The Elderberry Prize for Short Fiction.
Short Fiction submissions may fall in any fiction genre allowed by the General Rules. We are looking for fresh ideas, creative story lines, and interesting characters. Authors are encouraged to express their own style and unique perspective, and to tell stories that are compelling rather than formulaic. As always, stories should be free of spelling, grammatical and typographical errors. Please proof-read your work before submitting.
Submissions should be no longer than 5,000 words, and while there is no lower limit to the acceptable word-count we are generally expecting work in the 3,000 to 5,000 word range. Submissions longer than 5,000 will be accepted, but no content after the 5,000th word will be considered (i.e. we will stop reading after 5,000 words).
In 2013, the Elderberry Prize for Short Fiction will be awarded in June, September and December, so submission deadlines for 2013 are May 31, August 31 and November 30.
A cash prize of $500 is awarded to the winning submission in each Elderberry Short Fiction contest. In 2013, three such prizes will be awarded in accordance with the Prizes section of the General Contest Rules. Additional, small cash prizes may be awarded for non-winning submissions at Scribulous’ sole discretion. The winning entry for each contest will be published in the Winners’ Works section of the Scribulous web site for a period of one year, and will be archived in a format that can be searched and retrieved by readers in perpetuity.
Each submission for the Biography contest must fit within a fairly traditional definition of biography. It must be a non-fiction account of the life of a real person, written by someone other than the subject of the biography. It is not necessary to cover the subject’s entire life in this format – biographies that explore a period in the subject’s life, or even a single event in the subject’s life are acceptable. Note that autobiographies are not appropriate for this contest.
In judging biographies we will be looking for stories that communicate truths or lessons-learned that transcend the life of the subject or the author. While the stories themselves may be very personal, they should communicate something of relevance to the reader. A connection to a larger community, society or culture is what gives the story meaning.
Submissions should be no longer than 5,000 words, and while there is no lower limit to the acceptable word-count we are generally expecting work in the 3,000 to 5,000 word range. Submissions longer than 5,000 will be accepted, but no content after the 5,000th word will be considered (i.e. we will stop reading after 5,000 words).
The Elderberry Prize for Short Biography will be awarded in April, July and October of 2013 and January of 2014, so submission deadlines for 2013 are March 31, June 30, September 30 and December 31.
A cash prize of $500 is awarded to the winning submission in each Elderberry Biography contest. In 2013, three such prizes will be awarded in accordance with the Prizes section of the General Contest Rules. Additional, small cash prizes may be awarded for non-winning submissions at Scribulous’ sole discretion. The winning entry for each contest will be published in the Winners’ Works section of the Scribulous web site for a period of one year, and will be archived in a format that can be searched and retrieved by readers in perpetuity.
Last August I blogged about writing markets for child authors. After I’d compiled a list on my blog, the editor of the e-zine Knowonder! contacted me to let me know it also publishes children’s writing (as well as children’s stories written by adults). I was unfamiliar with the e-zine but saw it paid, so I submitted a few stories online. Knowonder! recently purchased a Christmas story from me.
The editor has since let me know that Knowonder! is now accepting chapter books for ages 7 to 9. If you’re interested, you can find guidelines and submit at knowonder.submittable.com/submit
From what I’ve submitted to this publisher, I gather the editors are seeking stories more like traditional fairy tales, with an element of magic or fantasy. They ask for “imaginative, exciting, action-filled” stories. They don’t appear to be seeking run-of-the-mill contemporary stories with everyday situations set in ordinary settings.
Right now I'm working on a book of my adult short stories called, Short Stories and Other Imaginings For The Reading Spot. Some pictures will be sketching and some in shades of gray, (not fifty shades!) This one is for a story called Spiders, a short short, about two paragraphs long. In the story the woman is working an apple press while she thinks about the things that are happening in her life.
sketch for Janoose & The Fall feather Fair
Another project I'm doing sketches for is a sequel for my children's book, Janoose The Goose called, Janoose & The Fall Feather Fair. The Fox returns to Free Range Farm and he wants something from Janoose! This book I co-wrote with my grandson. It's in the sketching stage as you can see by the picture. Hope you will come back to see how these two projects progress. Thanks, JD
J.D. Holiday's Site
Book Garden Publishing, LLC
At its core, writing is about cutting beneath every social expectation to get to the voice you have when no one is listening. It’s about finding something true, the voice that lies beneath all words. But the paradox of writing is that everyone at her desk finds that the stunning passage written in the morning seems flat three hours later, and by the time it’s rewritten, the original version will look dazzling again. Our moods, our beings are as changeable as the sky (long hours at any writing project teach us), so we can no longer trust any one voice as definitive or lasting.
First, keep the entire book manuscript in one electronic file—it’s a huge time-saver. I know writers who use a separate file on their computer for each chapter of their book. Each of my novels is in one file—the whole thing. It would drive me nuts to have to open up, let’s say, a file for chapter 9 in order to check on information I needed for a scene in chapter 22—for example, maybe I need to make sure where I stashed a clue back in chapter 9 that now needs to be discovered in 22.
A file-per-chapter writer friend didn’t see how I could do it. The key is using bookmarks to navigate quickly and easily around a complete novel manuscript.
With the Microsoft Word and WordPerfect Bookmark tools, wherever you are in a manuscript you can insert a bookmark and easily come back to it from any other place in the manuscript. I used it frequently in putting this book together to jump from where I was writing to a previous section to check on something in another section. I’d insert the letter “a” as a bookmark where I was, go to where I needed to go, and then just use the bookmark to hop back. I use “a” because it comes up at the top of the bookmark list. And you can use it over and over—when I needed to do the same thing further on in the manuscript, the “a” was at the top of the list and it was simple to just select it, click “insert,” and have the “a” bookmark located in the new place.
Another use for bookmarks is when you’re deep into rewriting or polishing your book and it’s time to hang up your brain for the night, your eyes having become loose in their sockets. If you’re on, let’s say, line 16 on page 174 out of 263, the quick way to return to that exact spot is insert a bookmark—the letter “a” will do, or perhaps “here,” or whatever is easiest—save the file, and shut down. Next day, you can return to the exact spot you left off with a couple of keystrokes.
In Word you click Insert; click Bookmark; type in a letter or word in the Bookmark name box, then click the Add button. For some reason, you can’t use words separated by spaces—which leads me to sometimes insert bookmarks such as “describebarn” or “describe-barn” so I’ll know what it’s about. In WordPerfect, you click Tools, then Bookmark, then Create, which lets you type in a name and say OK.
When you next open your document, to go to a bookmark you type control+g (PC) or apple+g (Mac), select Bookmark in the dialogue box that pops up, select the bookmark you want (there’s a little arrow button to show a list of all bookmarks), click okay, and you’re there.
Let’s say that you’re really struggling with a passage, or maybe just chugging through the narrative, laying track, and you know what you’ve just written will need more thought. You can bookmark it and move on, knowing you can return with ease. Using bookmarks, I will revisit material that needs honing a number of times until I’m satisfied with it. With a bookmark, it’s easy to go back and keep at it; without a bookmark, I suspect it would get far fewer visits and less thought.
Here’s another one: deep into the umpteenth rewrite of a novel, it came to me that I needed to add a key visual and emotional element to a character’s scenes in several places in the story. First, I inserted bookmarks at each scene where the new material was to be added (necklace1, necklace2, necklace3, etc.). Later, I jumped easily from one spot to another to make sure I had kept things consistent yet varied and had done all I needed to make the new material blend with the old. Because my first drafts tend to be on the lean side, bookmarking those additional bits of narrative enabled me to visit them after they’d cooled a little to see if they needed more work.
Because you can give each bookmark a different handle, another handy use is the ability to check back to important passages. This is especially useful for continuity checks. Let’s say that early in the novel you created a detailed description of a room, and the things in that room are important to your story when they come up again. Put a bookmark there (“the-murder” or “crimescene” or some such) and it’s easy to refer back and keep later references to that place accurate. This could be darned handy for clues in a mystery novel.
Bookmark the first page of each chapter to hop to one instantly. If you know you had Heather shoot the green bunny in chapter 4 but can’t quite remember the sequence of events when you’re referring to the shooting in chapter 16, it’s easy to check.
Marking a passage for later use or change is another bookmark use. In one of my novels, I planned to move the description I’d written for a character to an earlier chapter during the rewrite. I bookmarked that passage so that when I got to the new description point in the rewrite, I could jump there, cut the description from its page, then jump back to where I was (because I inserted a “here” bookmark before I left that point) and paste it in. No hunting, no searching for keyword strings, etc.
“A wealth of advice backed up by numerous examples and explanations. Ray doesn't just give you the "rules" of writing, but also gives you an understanding of why you shouldn't break the rules . . . and examples of times when it's a good idea to break them.
Ray's book deals with storytelling, description, dialogue, techniques, words to avoid, and workouts that help writers to understand how to critique their work and others. He also delves into how to hook your readers and make them care about your story and its character through building tension, raising story questions, perfecting your narrative voice, writing with clarity, setting the scene, and developing your characters. This book is well worth the price of admission.” Joseph
What’s an idea? The mere concept of an idea is difficult, maybe even impossible to perfectly define. Even notable philosophers couldn’t seem to agree on what an idea truly means. The Free Dictionary Online indicates that according to the philosophy of Plato, the definition of an idea “is an archetype of which a corresponding being in phenomenal reality is an imperfect replica.” The web source goes on to say that according to the philosophy of Kant, “an idea is a concept of reason that is transcendent but nonempiral.” But, even Hagel said it differently. He claimed that an idea means “absolute truth; the complete and ultimate product of reason.” In the dictionary, the definition of an idea reads “something, such as a thought or conception that potentially or actually exists in the mind as a product of mental activity.”
To me, an idea is something that begins as a glimmer; a mere flicker in the mind that can suddenly grab hold, and unfold through any period of time, like the single root of the ivy plant that grounds itself deeply into the soil before it grows upwards, clinging to a wall with its tiny tentacles, reaching out and hanging on, until it forms its own shape and dimension. The ivy grows and grows, like no other ivy plant in existence, and reaches for the sun in a way that suits itself in order to flourish. Like an idea, the ivy didn’t plant itself. Someone had to place it there. The gardener of the ivy had to have foresight to buy or rent the house, invest in the fertilizer and the soil and the tools; he had to invest in the plant and spend his time digging the hole and planting it in the hopes that it would grow.
Like the gardener; creative professionals must make an investment in time, be committed to the outcome, and diligently work to understand and meet the project objectives. That’s a lot of footwork and fancy dancing already. But, what about the ideas you generate…those tiny seedlings of thought, that grew and took shape and added a dimension to the project that were unlike every other idea before it…those absolute truths…those nonempiral transcendent concepts of reason…those imperfect replicas…what about those? Those ideas, my friends, have value and they are your greatest asset. Sometimes, we forget that and give them away too freely, as if they have no value. So if you’re questioning your creative worth, maybe you should start looking first at your assets. #yourideashaveworth
If you've been following my blog for a while, you know I'm pretty open about all my quirks. (And I have a lot of them.) But today I'm sharing some things about myself that you might not know. Here it goes:
I'm the worst boss in the world. I won't even let myself break for meals. I eat with one hand and type with the other, and if it takes me longer than 7 minutes to eat, I'll just give up eating all together and get back to typing with two hands.
I rock out to teeny bopper music. Yup. When I'm stressed out, I turn to my 6-year-olds playlist on my iPod, which consists of songs from Victoria Justice, R5, Big Time Rush, and Selena Gomez. Call me crazy but it's instant relaxation.
I have laptop separation anxiety. I have to have one of my laptops on at all times. Unless I'm sleeping, when I have my smartphone on the nightstand in case I need it in the middle of the night.
My day planner stole my memory. Ever since I started using a day planner, I can't remember anything I don't write down. It's a little annoying and very inconvenient.
I fall in love with every male lead I write. I feel bad for guys in real life because they can't compare to book boyfriends. Sorry, guys. And I fall for my male leads every time.
Okay, I've embarrassed myself—yet again. Now it's your turn. What do you have to confess about yourself?
As I watched yet another body count trend upward in a recent movie, it inspired me to list the top five things that bore me as a viewer/reader. These clichéd and overused tropes are supposed to wow, but leave me snoring. This list applies to fiction as well as movies.
1) Gratuitous sex scenes, aka sex with a stranger.
It’s stupid. Why should I care? The encounter between two people who truly long for each other, who have been kept apart then finally come together, is far more intriguing. Couples who have a history that reunite or make up are more interesting than random rutters.
2) Random violence.
Killing one character I've grown invested in is more compelling than blasting away with an automatic weapon downing characters I don’t know or care about. It's a fact of human nature that genocide in a distant land doesn't register until the battle is brought to a person's front door. The closer the character who dies is to the protagonist, the higher the story stakes. As much as I love cozy mysteries, there's almost a disconnect when it comes to the victims. The best cozy mystery makes me care that the victim died.
It’s a turn off. As much as I appreciate special effects makeup artists, they can use their talents to make cooler effects that don’t involve rolling heads or spurting arteries. In books, I really don’t need paragraphs of gruesome details. I scan past them. Same with torture and battle scenes. They make me cringe. I'm a grown-up. I have experienced loss and pain. I get the drift. The reality that people are bestial and kill each other is disgusting and horrifying enough. We never followed Anne Frank to the concentration camp, but the reality of the horror of that story scarred me for life. Why? Because I grew to know and like her and that made what she went through personal rather than abstract. If you want to impress upon your readers true horror, make it personal.
4) Drawn out panoramic shots.
Whether it’s a prolonged movie clip or endless paragraphs describing the setting in excessive detail, I have a tendency to fast forward or skim read past them. Take a picture; it lasts longer. Have you ever sat through an endless slideshow of someone else's vacation? Make description short and make it count, then move onto the point of the scene. It's even better if the setting has an impact on the scene.
5) Adults or teens that behave like out of control toddlers.
Book or movie, I have no patience with these characters. I wouldn't hang out with them in person. I don't waste page time with them either. If this character is the protagonist, I put the book down and it goes on my discard pile.
What tropes inspire you to flip pages or quit reading?