JacketFlap connects you to the work of more than 200,000 authors, illustrators, publishers and other creators of books for Children and Young Adults. The site is updated daily with information about every book, author, illustrator, and publisher in the children's / young adult book industry. Members include published authors and illustrators, librarians, agents, editors, publicists, booksellers, publishers and fans. Join now (it's free).
Login or Register for free to create your own customized page of blog posts from your favorite blogs. You can also add blogs by clicking the "Add to MyJacketFlap" links next to the blog name in each post.
Viewing: Blog Posts Tagged with: writing, Most Recent at Top [Help]
Results 1 - 25 of 6,459
How to use this Page
You are viewing the most recent posts tagged with the words: writing in the JacketFlap blog reader. What is a tag? Think of a tag as a keyword or category label. Tags can both help you find posts on JacketFlap.com as well as provide an easy way for you to "remember" and classify posts for later recall. Try adding a tag yourself by clicking "Add a tag" below a post's header. Scroll down through the list of Recent Posts in the left column and click on a post title that sounds interesting. You can view all posts from a specific blog by clicking the Blog name in the right column, or you can click a 'More Posts from this Blog' link in any individual post.
I was thrilled to meet Jane Yolen at a recent SCBWI conference, and even more excited when Jane read my f&g of Where Are My Books? and liked it (see photo at the very end of this interview). Jane Yolen is the renowned author of many children's books, fantasy, and science fiction, including Owl Moon, The Devil's Arithmetic, and How Do Dinosaurs Say Goodnight? Her books, poems and stories have won many awards, including the Caldecott Medal.
This lyrical bedtime book is an ode to baby birds everywhere and to sleepy children, home safe in their own beds. As a mother describes how different species of birds nest, secure and cozy with their mama birds, she tucks her own child into bed with the soothing refrain, “you nest here with me”—easing her little one and readers alike to slumber. Perfect for a young audience, this poetic text begs to be read aloud, and is accompanied by Melissa Sweet’s incredibly warm and original art.
Q. Could you please take a photo of something in your office and tell us the story behind it?
Photo: Heidi Stemple.
Like most writers, I have an enormous research library in my home and when I am working on a particular project, those books get scattered around my writing room.
As I am currently working on two very different manuscripts--one set in the Holocaust (the first section in the Lodz Ghetto) and the other a graphic novel trilogy set in 1930s Edinburgh, I chose to pick out a book from each of those piles to feature in the photograph. At the top is a day-by-day catalog of what happened during the ghetto years in Lodz, and in the second materials about Scotland through the ages. Fiction has to take the real and massage it into a story that nay (or may not) have actually happened. We recreate (hi)story and bring our readers along.
Photo: Heidi Stemple.
From Jane, about the photo above: "I can't seem to write without a cup of tea (British decaf with demarara sugar and a splash of Lactaid milk.) I keep making cuppas coming all day long."
Q. What advice do you have for young writers?
Read, read, read.
Write something every day.
Never take no for an answer.
Don't believe your reviews--either good or bad.
Heart on the page.
Know that books are not just written, but rewritten.
(Above: Listen as Jane reads and critiques her very first poem)
Q. What are you excited about right now?
Two of my old books recently splashed out big: HOW DO DINOSAURS GET WELL SOON (Scholastic) won the Colorado One Book Award, and BAD GIRLS (Charlesbridge)--written with daughter Heidi Stemple--won the Magnolia Award, Mississippi's Children's Book Award for the middle grades. Plus the latest book Heidi and I just published--YOU NEST HERE WITH ME (Boyds Mills) with amazing illustrations by Melissa Sweet--has recently had a tremendous start and after only a month is getting a second printing.
But honestly, I am always most excited about the manuscript I am working on now. That's where my heart is, where my soul is. That is where my tomorrow is.
Part of the reason for the prediction quality: Google's optical text recognition has fine-tuned through Google Book project. Predictably, you can add your feedback on the accuracy of the handwriting translation to their database, but the default leaves this in-app reporting off.
You can double-tap any datawell to activate the handwriting input. As you write, your words are translated dynamically into a field just above, with three predictions to choose between, in a continuous ribbon. A green arrow serves to "enter" your input, or your can touch to toggle between fields. The handwriting input option works especially well when paired with Google Keep, which provides an ample space to jot.
And Google Handwriting perhaps most intriguingly, allows you to draw emojis, predicated on your familiarity with emojis.
I can see Google Handwriting being of real utility for those with Samsung Note phablets as well as for those who never learned their QWERTY keys. But even for touch typists, it's good to experience the web through another input and, like playing around with voice control, provides a way to experience web searching and navigation from a different perspective.
I haven't posted this for a while but, considering that it's 420 Day, you might be in the mood for a peaceful if poignant and brief video on what all writers deal with.
Of course, these days self-publication is a response to rejection. To that end, here's an aid for self-publishers:
One of the best 'how-to' books (from Amazon)
"I just read this book a week ago. I found the “experiential description of action” section to be very helpful. It refocused me on how to write action scenes with flavor and depth. I have some 20 books on the craft of writing on my shelf, and as I am revising my third novel this month, I’m already grabbing it down several times as my ‘go to’ book. If you are a writer at any level, this book is a worthy addition to your craft library."
Note from Julie: Today’s post is a compilation of advice on historical research from a few members of the Sweet Sixteens, a group of YA and MG authors who are debuting in 2016. You can learn more about the Sweet Sixteens and their upcoming books on their website. I’m very proud to be a part of this great group, and I’m excited to share some writing advice from my fellow debut authors!
The idea for this post came from a thread on the Sweet Sixteens’ discussion forum. Kali Wallace, who writes YA horror, posted a question for historical fiction writers. I thought it was great that a writer was reaching across genres to ask a question, and the replies were stellar! Thank you all for agreeing to let me share this great discussion with the readers of PubCrawl! (And stay tuned for more of Kali Wallace and YA horror in a future post!)
I have a question for writers of historical fiction:
How do you research for a historical novel? What sort of research do you do?
How do you balance getting the period details right with writing for a modern MG/YA audience?
~Kali Wallace, author of Shallow Graves, Katherine Tegen Books 2016. You can visit Kali’s website and follow her on twitter @kaliphyte.
Lois Sepahban: My stories always start with a character, and I think that even in a historical setting, the character’s experiences are what make his/her story accessible and interesting for modern readers. But getting the setting details right does require research. Over a period of several months, I devour everything I can find about the setting–books, newspaper articles, diaries, documentaries, and museums. During those months, the story starts to slowly come together in my mind. So as soon as I’m ready to start writing, then I’ve already done most of the research.
I use a notebook to keep track of what I learn, and I always need to go back and dig up new details while I’m drafting.
By immersing myself in the history and culture before I start writing, I have found that the details come naturally as I’m drafting.
(Lois Sepahban is the author of the upcoming MG Historical, Paper Wishes, coming from FSG/Margaret Ferguson Books in Winter 2016. Learn more about Lois on her website and say hello to her on twitter @LoisSepahban)
Janet B. Taylor: When I FIRST started writing for REALS, I’d planned to write adult historical fiction. I was working with a hisfic author as a “writing coach” who told me–in no uncertain terms–that though I was a good writer, with potential…blah blah…my “voice” was too modern and too “YA”.
Now, at the time, I didn’t really know what “YA” was. And I certainly didn’t know what voice meant in writing terms.
Soo…I cried. A lot. Then I got to thinking. Okay. Modern voice. YA. Loves historical…..TIME TRAVEL!
I’ve been fascinated by the medieval period for years, and had studied it for a long time. Particularly England and France, and even more specifically, Queen Eleanor of Aquitaine. (I’d LOVE to write about her one day. Her teenage years are absolutely astounding. However, there are a LOT of wonderful books already written about Eleanor. And I’m not sure I have the chops to go up against someone like Elizabeth Chadwick or Sharon Kay Penman, for instance.)
Anyhoo, with that background, I basically did what Lois said. Total immersion for months. Websites. Read a lot. Traveled to Europe a few times. Read a lot. Castles, museums. Oh, did I mention I spent WAY too much money on books so I could read a lot? I got everything about anything to do with time period. I even got to spend the night inside Fontevraud Abbey in France, where Eleanor spent her later years, and is buried. I got to be alone with her (and Henry II and Richard the Lionheart) at night, in the cathedral, all alone. It was magnificent!
Now the sequel to my current book will take place in NYC during “The Gilded Age” 1895. That is requiring a LOT of new, very detailed, very intense research, as I wasn’t really familiar with that era. But it’s such a cool time and I’m enjoying it very much!
(Janet B. Taylor’s debut YA Adventure/Time Travel, Into the Dim, will be published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt in Spring 2016. Visit Janet on her website and follow her on twitter @Janet_B_Taylor)
Patrick Samphire: Almost everything I write is set in one historical period or another. I’ve written short stories in Ancient Greece and Ancient Egypt, as well as in the first world war and prehistoric Britain. My novel, SECRETS OF THE DRAGON TOMB, is set in 1816, and I’m also working on a novel set in the 1930s.
But the shameful truth is that I’m an absolutely terrible researcher. I hate doing it. I pick up some incredibly informative, vastly heavy reference book and I rarely get past the introduction before my brain melts into a puddle of supreme apathy. I just can’t bring myself to do it. Come on. I can’t be the only one, right?
So, I have developed a special method of Historical Research for the Historically Ignorant and Terminally Lazy:
1. Watch movies and read books set in the relevant period, to get a basic idea of what the period was like. You have to be careful that you’re not picking books and movies by people who are equally Historically Ignorant and Terminally Lazy. For my 1816 book, that meant reading Jane Austen, Bernard Cornwell and Georgette Heyer and watching lots of Jane Austen adaptations. Yeah, and some people claim this is work…
2. Write your book.
3. Figure out all the bits you should have researched and go and look them up. Wikipedia is, of course, not particularly accurate about many things, but admit it, we all use it… Alternatively, ask my wife (you’ll have to find someone else to ask; sorry). My wife loves doing historical research. She reads books like that for fun. She even has degrees in this kind of stuff.
4. Realise that what you have in the book can’t possibly have happened, because you didn’t bother to research it in advance.
5. Rewrite, making it less impossible.
6. Blame the wizards/fairies/aliens. My books tend to have pretty heavy fantasy or science fiction elements, so when I get something wrong, I just blame the influence of magic/technology for changes to real history.
7. Now no one will realize how little you actually know about your historical period. Unless you write a blog entry admitting it.
(Patrick Samphire is the author of the upcoming MG Adventure, Secrets of the Dragon Tomb, coming from Christy Ottaviano Books (Henry Holt / Macmillan) in January 2016. Learn more about Patrick on his website and say hello to him on twitter @patricksamphire)
Heidi Heilig: For starters, picking historical fantasy/time travel over straight up historical fiction made things easier when it came to research. In the world of the book, characters can travel to historical and mythological maps, so I am not tied strictly to widely-agreed-upon reality.
That said, accurate history can really make the fantasy aspect shine. When I did my research, reading was key for me, and I often went down the research rabbit hole for hours on something small that never made it into the final draft–or even the draft I was working on at the time. But that time wasn’t wasted–having all that information in a soup in my head made it easy to pick small things out and weave them into a detailed story.
Obviously, primary factual documents were very useful–boat time tables, newspaper articles–but I also found fiction of the time period very helpful for dialogue and speech cadence. Old pictures helped (the bulk of the story takes place in 1884 so there are some) and maps, of course, so I could see, for example, what areas of town smelled because they were near the tannery or how noisy things were due to proximity to the market. Paintings, art, or songs of the time helped me humanize the characters and understand what people filled their time with when they weren’t doing Important Book Things, because I have this tendency to see historical people as Very Serious.
In the future, I hope to be skilled enough to do straight up historical fiction. I love history. I think there are some issues that are universal. No matter when, teens are always growing up, or falling in love, or looking for their place in the world.
(Heidi Heilig’s debut YA Fantasy/Time Travel, The Girl from Everywhere, will be published by Greenwillow/HarperCollins in February, 2016. You can learn more about her on her website and follow her on Twitter @heidiheilig.)
What are your thoughts on historical fiction? Do you use any of these techniques when you research? Please share you thoughts in the comments!
I could hear most of you groaning. Taxes aren't exactly fun for a writer. We don't get the same taxes taken out of our pay, which means we get killed at tax time. I've seen some horror stories from well-known and successful writers who owe thousands at tax time. I don't envy them, but at the same time I do.
Confused? Really the less you make and the more you can write off as losses, the better as far as tax season goes. Of course that means you didn't have the best year. On the other hand, if you sold a ton of books and made great money, you're going to have to give some of that back come April 15. I pay quarterly, and I usually wind up overpaying, which means I get some money back at the end of the year, but it's nothing to celebrate.
So what's a writer to do? As always, write. At least that's my opinion. What do you think about the way writers are taxed. Is there a better system?
In a recent edit for a very talented writer, there was this bit of description.
She thinned her lips. She’d never liked the man.
I liked that as a bit of description. I’ve done that, I’ve seen other people do that, I can visualize that, and it’s a grimace that goes along with an emotion, in this case one of irritation. Worked for me.
Six paragraphs later, here it came again in regard to talking to the same irritating character..
She thinned her lips again.
Well, okay, since “again” was used, this is on purpose, so maybe it’s not an unconscious echo.
A page and a half later, still in the same scene, the character thinned her lips once more. Now the phrase has popped into my awareness. And there’s the rub.
An insidious intrusion
When an echo rises to the level of conscious awareness, it makes you cognizant of the writing, which by definition takes you out of the story and thus distances you from being immersed in the character’s story experience.
The phrase surfaced again and again through the rest of the story. I did a search and counted. In this short novel (about 70,000 words), there was:
she thinned her lips – 8 uses
he thinned his lips – 3 uses
thinning his lips – 1 use
So this image of lips thinning, which was quite appropriate the first time it was used, came about 12 times. I have, of course, pointed this out to the author and she is perfectly capable of finding excellent alternatives.
Self-editing tip: read it aloud.
As noted, she is a talented writer, and she had self-edited the novel, and had beta readers comment. Yet no one noticed. I wonder, though, if she had read it aloud if the unseen repetition would have gone unheard. I suspect not.
In the first chapter it where it first made its appearance, “thinned her lips” was used three times. I’ll bet that the third instance would have stood out when read aloud. Then, even if it was left there, the fourth instance later would have jumped out at her, then the fifth more so, and on.
Echoes have a way of creeping in when a word is particularly handy or appropriate to the meaning. In this manuscript, there was a spot where the word “stowed” appeared three times in a paragraph and a half. That’s about two too many, and I’m sure she would have noticed if she’d read it aloud.
So, when it comes to self-editing, be sure to speak up and listen hard.
Anyone who has worked with me knows that I take a pretty hard line when it comes to telling in dialogue tags. Examples are:
“I’m so excited!” she said exuberantly.
“That’s wonderful.” Coldness radiated from his voice.
Nothing bums me out more than reading scenework where the writer has decided to take all the fun out of it on the reader’s behalf. Sometimes I call it “hand-holding,” sometimes I call it “overexplaining,” sometimes I just cross it out.
The reason behind my aversion is that writers who do this are taking something essential away from the reader. The star of dialogue is the dialogue itself. Holding the reader’s hand through each snippet of dialogue says to me that you don’t quite trust yourself to communicate the scene in a way that the reader gets it.
Scene is one of the magic places in a manuscript where characters can be on display, speaking to one another, acting toward one another, and otherwise demonstrating themselves and their relationships. It’s the ultimate voyeur’s paradise (calling the reader a voyeur here). Whenever you tell, instead of show, you take away the reader’s power to interpret and appreciate character.
The first example, above, is there because it’s redundant. You would not believe how many writers do this. If a character says “I’m so excited!” then it can stand alone, with no further explanation. I’d be a wealthy woman if I had $5 for every time I saw:
“I’m sorry,” she apologized.
“Yes,” he agreed.
The second example is more subtle. Your character is saying one thing, but there’s an undercurrent of tension and the suggestion that they mean something else. Delicious! Instead of describing tone of voice (sneaky telling), maybe match up the dialogue with action to color it:
“That’s wonderful.” He crossed his arms.
Or, maybe even better yet, leave it up to reader or POV character interpretation:
“Oh yeah? You think so?” The last time he’d used that descriptor, he was watching a snake choking the life out of a mongoose.
Let the character react, which will help guide reader feelings. Dialogue tags exist to communicate information. The two biggest things they should clarify are:
Who is speaking?
Is there anything going on in narration or action that’s not implied in the dialogue?
But too many tags tell about emotions, tone of voice, and tension when those are better uncovered by the reader for lasting character and relationship understanding. Next time you’re working on a scene and you want to try something hard, take out ALL of your dialogue tags and see how it reads. If it’s totally confusing, layer back 25% of what you had before and see if you can make it work.
If you’re one of those writers addicted to dialogue tags, especially in scenes with only two characters, where you theoretically don’t even need them, I bet this will be a revelatory reminder that you’re explaining too much.
Known for being the fan favorite of major conventions, with its relaxed nature and lines, WonderCon has been gaining in popularity over the last few years.
For this last WonderCon, I was a little underwhelmed with the pick of panel selections, so I decided to spend more time on the sales floor than I usually do. The diversity of vendors, artists, and publishers gathered here are always wonderful to see and explore. During my long exploration, I came across a few booths that I felt deserved a shout out.
C.M.E. (Creative Mind Energy LLC): I’ve seen these guys for a few years now, at both WonderCon and Comic-Con. Every time I do, it’s a great pleasure. CME is a
Design Studio Press
family business that come up with original creative content for various avenues, such as print, television, movies, and video games. The artwork of their comic books are so unique, featuring beautifully, hand drawn scenes. The work stands out and makes a name for itself. One of their latest works, Deadeye, will be coming out this June. Find a copy for yourself. [http://creativemindenergy.com/]
Design Studio Press: This publisher has been around for 15 years. The level of workmanship in each book shows why they’ve been around this long. Design
Studio Press’s content is mostly beautiful reference materials for making art and designing. A couple books of theirs that really impressed me were “How to draw” and “How to render.” Each one’s a thick piece of work; highly detailed, lots of pictures, and very simple to follow. But what really was impressive is that if you download the company’s app on your phone, and train the camera on certain pages, an AR tutorial will appear on the paper, including more than what is there. This is truly the next step in books and technology. [http://designstudiopress.com/]
Abraham Lopez himself
Abraham Lopez: A picture is worth a thousand words, so goes the saying. This artist’s work is indeed worth that many words, creating a hilarious work of fiction. Using a combination of comic and Disney characters, his drawings place them in farfetched, but yes very amusing scenes and situations. During the entire convention, his booth was consistently surrounded. I myself had to buy a few of his prints. They are just that good. But beyond their subject matter, his art is well done and polished. [http://artistabe.deviantart.com/]
Even though WonderCon is over, still check these guys out. They all deserve some patronage in my book. I’d love to see them again at this year’s SDCC.
Something I've discovered in this industry is that there is no such thing as one size fits all. What works while drafting one book, may not work for another. I've written some books completely out of order and had to piece them together. Others I've written linearly. The same goes for revision. Some books make me want to pull my hair out during revisions because I have to track so many things and keep lists to make sure there aren't inconsistencies anywhere. Other books go so smoothly during revisions that I get a little worried because I feel it should have been more difficult.
And even after the writing and revising stage, things still aren't one size fits all. What works for one author while promoting a new book may not work for another. I'm talking about the exact same efforts yielding very different results. So how do we know what to do? Honestly, I think it's all trial and error. We have to try new things and old things to see what will work for that particular book. Time consuming? Absolutely! Frustrating at times? Absolutely! Necessary? Absolutely! Well, unless you don't care if your books sell or not, but let's be honest. We ALL care. ;)
Have you ever experienced very different results from the same strategies?
I came across an article titled “Writing Remedy: How to Breathe Life into One-dimensional Characters” by Writer’s Relief staff. While I’m sure your characters have plenty of depth and complexity, perhaps there are tips here worth noting. For example, there’s advice that relates to “showing” character dimensions versus “telling” that I think is worth thinking about.
For the last couple of months, I’ve been posting about revision. You can find part one here, and part two here, moving from the macro to the micro.
So at this point, the biggest parts of the story should be in line. The plot, motivations, worldbuilding — it should all be in shape. You should know your characters pretty well, and the things they do should make sense. The structure of the story should be pretty sound, without too much action grouped together, or too many talky scenes grouped together . . . any of that. The story should move at a good pace that fits with the kind of story you’re telling.
But what else?
3. On to the micro.
This might seem like the tedious part, but it’s what’s going to separate the good and the great. Don’t stop just because the big stuff is in order. Dig in deeper and make that story shine. If you want to bring this back to our house analogy, imagine putting in the furniture, hanging the curtains, and picking the countertops.
a) Sentence structure.
If you notice that your sentences are all structured the same, it’s probably time to introduce some variety. Because reading the same type of sentence over and over gets boring. The reader starts to hear it in monotone. There’s no voice. It’s easy to skim.
So go ahead: make it interesting,
b) Word choice
If you’re writing a historical set in the 1500s, the characters probably won’t say “whatevs” and call one another “bro.” (And if they do, why? Make it believable.) Make sure the words your characters use are appropriate for the time period, the world, and their backgrounds.
Also, keep in mind that the words your characters use can do cool things like reflect mood, secret hopes, and whether they think the glass is half full or empty.
c) Cut the fluff.
You know those lines you thought would be important but ended up . . . not? But you still like them so you kept them? Yeah. Cut them. Sorry. This is another round of “if it doesn’t add to the story, chop it.”
So sometimes we’ll write things with a character picking up a glass in the middle of a conversation, just to give them some sort of action. But beware — sometimes those little throwaway lines can be more distracting than anything. When you’ve given yourself some space from the story, come back and chop out anything that makes you do a double take, or wonder if it’s going to be important.
If you have a block of description, figure out how to incorporate it into your characters action. Make it real. Make it tactile.
Also, cut out repeated information. Trust your reader to remember it. Unless you have a really good reason for keeping it in. There are always exceptions, of course. But a lot of times, writers will add the same information several times because they’re reminding themselves. All that is useful in first drafts, but not in the final.
d) Be consistent.
Watch out for places where your character is wearing a green dress at the start of the scene, and a blue dress by the end — without changing her clothes. Common places to look for continuity errors are distances, times, clothes, dates, character/place descriptions, and other smaller things. These can be hard to notice when you’re so close to a manuscript, so give yourself some time away. Eventually those things will pop out.
Also, try to be consistent in your words, too. Of course, spell your characters’ names the same way every time. If you call Sarah Sara a few times, the reader might wonder if they’re two different people. And, one that got me recently — I meant to capitalize House every time, but at some point thought I’d decided otherwise. As a result, I had a weird mix of both in my manuscript and had to make a lot of changes in copyedits to fix it!
So watch out for spellings, capitalizations, punctuation — other things like that. Your publisher will probably have a house style and the copyeditor will look for those things, too, but it’s a whole lot easier if you’re consistent about something. (It also makes you look more professional/careful.)
Well, I could keep going, but again this is getting pretty long. And I think I’ve covered most of what I meant to. Of course, general disclaimers apply. What works for me might not work for you, etc.
So was this helpful? Anything to add? Anything you’d like to take issue with?
Happy Monday! Monday Mishmash is a weekly meme dedicated to sharing what's on your mind. Feel free to grab the button and post your own Mishmash.
Here's what's on my mind today:
The Darkness Within Blog Tour Spencer Hill Press and I are looking for people to take part in the blog tour for The Darkness Within. ARCs are available for review too. Interested? Sign up here.
Holidays/Spring Break I hope everyone enjoyed Easter and/or Passover, whichever you celebrate in your family. We are also on spring break here, if you can call it that since most of it was taken back to make up snow days. ;)
YASH The YA Scavenger Hunt is officially over as of yesterday. As always, it was a lot of fun. :) Congrats to all the winners!
Free Monthly Newsletter My free monthly newsletter goes out today. If you aren't signed up to receive it, but would like to stay up-to-date on my books and writing tips, sign up here.
Perfect For You This Friday, I'll be sharing more info about my YA contemporary romance Perfect For You. Long story short, I took my rights back from the publisher and I'm relaunching the book this month. It's now available as an ebook AND as a paperback. Yay! And it got a new cover. Check it out. If you're interested in reading the book, you can find it on Amazon or B&N.
More April surprises have arrived. We have joined forces with some other great children’s book authors for a big giveaway. During April 5th – April 9th you can download the kindle version of our book, The Pig Princess from Amazon for FREE.
And since we think pigs rule we want to let you know about Scott Gordon’s children’s book, Pigtastic which is also FREE on Amazon during this period.
We saved the best for last. You can enter to win a 3DS XL and a game of your choice.
Hi, folks, this month I'm focusing the blog on the writing journey of PLUMB CRAZY. I'm calling this series: PLUMB CRAZY Journey -- The Good, The Bad, The Ugly and The Transcendent. I'm going to dig deep into the generation of my novel and dynamics of that creative journey. Be aware that I write as Cece Barlow for this work. It will be released at the end of this month.
This week I'm focusing on the good of writing my book PLUMB CRAZY. It was the fifth novel I've written (the other 4 are unpublished) and it is the closest to my real, every day life. There is much good that wraps into a book like this. Here are some of the layers.
One layer of good comes from basing a book in a world close to my own. The setting was easy to visualize. You really know the space you are working in. I know what it feels like to drag in after a seventeen hour day, my hands bleeding and back aching, even though I'm just a girl of seventeen. I know the heat of Texas and understand it is actually a character on the stage in this part of the world. I know how a drill feels when it jams and then beats against my fingers. This knowledge of setting saved some research hours, added authenticity, and gave this writer needed confidence.
Another layer of good that comes from basing a book on a world close to my own is all about mining memories. I mean we all have gold in our hilly pasts or even mountainous pasts. It was good to reexamine my younger days from the perspective of adulthood. I see things differently now than I did then. The Dragons that roared at me as teen seem like puny lizards now. My drama feels bland. I also see strengths in myself that I didn't realize at the time. I found myself celebrating who I am. Any journey that causes that is a good one.
The last layer of good that I'm going discuss (but by no means the only good I found) is all about the redo. Fiction is not exactly life. Life isn't always interesting. It doesn't always make sense. Good doesn't always triumph in real life. Writing a story gives you the freedom of what if. I found that writing PLUMB CRAZY reopened a few old wounds but then allowed them to really heal. Writing from the heart of my life helped me appreciate who I am. This is such a good thing. You might try it.
I hope you come back next week for more of the PLUMB CRAZY journey. I'm glad you dropped by. Happy creating.
It's Easter. Here's a whimsy doodle for you: Superhero egg designs.
Put this in your back pocket and bring it often.
I CELEBRATE myself, and sing myself, And what I assume you shall assume, For every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you. Walt WhitmanAdd a Comment
As a publisher, I subscribe to a lot of book publishing and marketing newsletters. Yesterday, I received the following email from two of those newsletters:
Ever wanted to write a children’s book?
If so, publishing your work as an e-book on Amazon’s Kindle platform is a great way to go – and now is a great time to get started.
The children's e-book market is up 475% this year alone, which makes it one of the fastest-growing book categories on Amazon.
Plus, once you know a simple formula, children’s books are one of the easiest types of books to write.
To discover how to get started writing and publishing your own children’s e-books, join Steve Harrison for a free webinar this Wednesday, April 1. (link redacted)
Steve will be interviewing an author who wrote a silly little 26-page Kindle children’s book in less than seven days, which, more than two years later, still produces more than $1,000 in royalties each month!
The idea that anyone can write a children's book using a "simple formula" is offensive and misleading. Writing a good children's book is not easy, it's hard! It takes dedication, hard work and a willingness to educate yourself about children's writing.
A common misconception is that writing for children is easy, because the writing in children's books appears simple. But that simplicity is deceptive; it takes skill and experience to know how to write for children in a way that's appealing without talking down to them. Writing good children's books is harder than writing good adult books. That book your children beg you to read every night? It was probably the result of many rounds of edits trying to get exactly the right words and the right tone. Of course, good adult writers do the same thing, but they don't have to agonize over every word, every sentence the way children's writers do.
Simplicity is hard! Theodor Geisel, better known as Dr. Seuss, is one of the most well-known and beloved children’s writers. The seemingly simple rhyming text of his stories has fooled many writers into thinking that it’s easy to write such books, but Geisel labored over each book, writing and rewriting, sometimes for a year or more.
Encouraging people to write a "silly little" children's book using a "simple formula" does no one a service, least of all the writers themselves. The marketing copy above leads people to believe that fame and riches are just around the corner and easy to achieve, when in reality nothing could be further from the truth. There are thousands of new children's books published every year, probably even more than that when you count all the self-published books. Many of those will languish in obscurity, many others will sell a decent number of copies and sit solidly midlist, and very few will sell a large number of copies. I personally know many, many children's authors, both traditionally published and self-published, and very few are getting rich. (Actually, I don't think any of my author friends are rich. If you are, let's talk!)
If you want to write a children's book, great! I admire anyone who pours their heart, soul, time, and effort into writing a book. But don't do it in expectation of making money. Yes, you might get lucky like the author mentioned in the ad above, but that's the exception, not the rule, and unless you are very, very lucky you won't achieve that. There is no magic formula that guarantees success - believe me, if there were, the big publishers would be using it! If you're going to write for children, do it for love, not for money. For most authors I know, the letters they receive from children mean much more than the royalty check. There's nothing wrong with wanting to make money from your writing, but if you go into it with that as your primary goal, there's a good chance that you're in for disappointment.
As a book blogger and Cybils Awards organizer/judge, I'm active in the children's book blogging community. Self-published books have developed a bad reputation in the community, and many bloggers now have review policies that exclude self- or indie published books. For years, I've advocated for indie publishing among my peers. Authors self-publish for many reasons, and self-publishing by itself is not an indicator of the level of quality. Self-publishing gives a voice to those who are disenfranchised by the traditional publishing industry. As one of the leaders of the Cybils Awards, I continually advocate to keep self-published books eligible and judged fairly and impartially. There are excellent self-published books, and a few have even been finalists or winners in the Cybils Awards.
But I sometimes feel that advocating for self-publishing is an uphill battle, when for every excellent book there are hundreds of others that are poorly done. People like Steve Harrison are making the situation worse by encouraging people to take the easy road, to produce more dreck that will further drag down the reputation of self-publishing. Not only that, but it misleads authors to believe that there is an easy road to success. There is no easy road that guarantees success! You might get lucky, but then, someone wins the Publishers Clearing House, too.
If you want to write a children's book, go for it! But rather than looking for easy formulas, take the time to learn what makes a good children's book. To start with, read a great many children's books. (If you have children, this isn't hard!) Read them critically, with an eye to what works well and what doesn't. (I've learned so much about children's books from nearly ten years of reviewing them for the blog, and nine years of being a Cybils judge). Read books about writing children's books. Take classes from reputable institutions or teachers. Join the Society for Children's Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) and your regional chapter of it. Attend writing conferences. Join or form a critique group. Check out any potential agents, publishers, promotional companies, contests, and more on the excellent Preditors and Editors.
One of my good friends, Anne Boles Levy, has her first book coming out in August, a YA fantasy published by independent publisher Sky Pony Press. For Anne, it's been at least a fifteen year journey: writing, editing, revising, and submitting the book. Anne works regularly with a critique group that includes multiple award-winning authors; I believe that the group has been working together since before any of them were published. During that fifteen years, in addition to writing Anne also invested a lot of time into things that helped her to be known in the children's book community: blogging, attending conferences, and even founding a children's book award. None of that guarantees any good reviews, of course, but it does mean that Anne has a better than average chance of getting bloggers to take a look at it. I haven't yet seen the book (although I can't wait!) but I assume that all the work she put into writing it has paid off in the form of an excellent book.
Now, I'm not saying that everyone needs to invest fifteen years. That's a lot of time to wait to achieve your dreams. But I am saying that true success does not come overnight in most cases, and if you want to succeed, you need dedication, perseverance, hard work, and a willingness to learn.
Don’t give in to the siren call of get-rich-quick schemes. Instead, invest your time and money in learning the craft and trade of children’s writing and publishing.
Happy April! Not only is it the month where Spring REALLY arrives here in St. Louis, but it's also National Poetry Month and along with that, RhyPiBoMo!
RhyPiBoMo is a month-long writing challenge for children’s writers aspiring to write rhyming picture books poetry and to add poetic techniques to their prose.
There's still time to sign up (you have until April 8) , or just follow along! There are daily posts about rhyming and optional challenges – if you've ever considered writing in rhyme, no matter what THEY say, join in the fun! If you're up to the challenge, and a chance to win some prizes, here's what you need to do daily:
I would never normally encourage underhand or devious behaviour, but today I’m most wholeheartedly advocating cooking the books!
Recipe For a Story by Ella Burfoot is a joyous and playful guide on how to have great fun creating a story good enough to eat. A little girl tells us, in lilting rhyme, how she weighs out her words, mixes in characters, adds flavour with feelings, colours and sounds, sprinkles in some punctuation and glazes her baking with happiness, all to ensure her story is a delicious read.
And Ella Burfoot’s book is indeed a very appetising offering! Both text and illustration are clever and comical, creating an enormously enjoyable story to share, but one which also offers scope for learning about aspects of bookmaking and storytelling; this is a book which could work as well in the classroom as at home on the sofa.
Illustrations full of jokes about both books and food offer lots to ensure repeat reading will be requested, with new details being discovered each time. The images also ooze happiness (there are so many smiles in this book, including a gorgeous one created – presumably – by Burfoot’s own child at the front of the book) and a charming child-like innocence. Burfoot’s use of pencil, crayon and collage in the illustration, at times reminding me of Louise Yates‘s work, will inspire kids not only to try writing their own stories, but also to illustrate them.
Now I’ve got a bit of a thing for edible books so I knew I had try my hand at making book slices inspired by Burfoot’s pie illustration above. After all, a slice of pie or cake has just the right shape to represent an open book. One Victoria sponge and inordinate amounts of icing later I had a teatime treat ready for my girls:
M and J then wanted to set up their own “story kitchen” with jars full of special ingredients. Old jars, labels and a few cut-up newspapers later, we had our ingredients all ready to be mixed up in bowls and turned into stories of our own.
The girls cut out words they liked from a variety of newspapers and magazines:
Jam jar labels were filled in with the names of various ingredients:
The girls created jars for “Quality Adverbs”, “Juicy Adjectives”, “Nonsense words”, “Crazy words”, “Hyphens”, “Book words” and my personal favourite, “Kim’s tiny words from concentrate”.
Helping your kids create their own books. This video tutorial shows you how to fold a piece of paper to create a mini book waiting to be filled with stories and illustration.
Encouraging a sense of real ownership of the books your kids already have at home, by letting them put customised book plates inside them. My Home Library is a fabulous source of bookplates designed by some of the world’s best illustrators free for you to print off and stick in your books. Many bookplates can be coloured in too.
I’m sorry to use a cheapo comparison like “Alan Moore of France” but time is short and I had to get my point across quickly! In France Fabien Vehlmann is actually known as the “Goscinny of the 21st Century”—a reference to Rene Goscinny, the writer of Asterix—so either way, he’s had some very flattering comparisons.
In the US the “writer/artist” system is accepted at the Big Two, giving rise to many very well known and even beloved authors such as, yes, Alan Moore, Neil Gaiman, Grant Morrison, and even a few Americans such as Kelly Sue DeConnick, Brian Bendis and so on. It’s relatively rare for a comics writer from another country to get much attention here in the US market, perhaps because translated comics by single artists have a stronger, more easily recognized esthetic. Indeed, the only manga writer with a reputation in the US who springs immediately to mind is Kazuo Koike, co-creator of Lone Wolf and Cub, Samurai Executioner, and Crying Freeman, a body of work that would place him pretty highly among any list of comics writers.
While there are tons of writers/scenarists in the Franco-Belgian comics industry, it’s safe to say that few of them have a following here. The one exception may be Fabien Vehlmann, a prolific writer who is known as one of the most successful BD writers in France. Vehlmann’s name became much better known in the US last year as the writer on the sensation Beautiful Darkness, which landed on bestseller lists and best of lists with equal frequency in 2014. Ironically, this book—a Lord of the Flies like social satire involving cute fairies who do horrible things to survive—may be one of the books where Vehlmann’s imprimatur is least felt: the story is by Marie Pommepuy, one half of the Kerascoët art duo that gave the book its unforgettable images. But as he explained in this interview, Vehlmann co-wrote the story, and developed many of its themes of nihilism and survival.
In France, Vehlmann’s best known gig is as writer of Spirou and Fantasio, which is sort of like taking over writing Calvin and Hobbes here if that strip had run since 1938 and Bill Watterson was just the guy who turned in the greatest stories ever on a long running character. Spirou is a bumbling bellhop, best known in the version by the great Franquin, but he eventually developed into a globetrotting, adventurous reporter (ala Brenda Starr) along with his buddy Fantasio. The strip remains very popular in France, and has been published here by Cinebook, but in the Franquin version.
Cinebook has also published “Alone” (Seuls) with art by Bruno Gazotti, a YA book about five kids who find themselves in an empty city and must find each other to survive. Sadly I haven’t read any of the Cinebooks editions of Vehlmann’s work, but they’re on my must find list.
Prior to Beautiful Darkness, Vehlmann’s best known English language book was probably Isle of 100,000 Graves, drawn by the great Norwegian cartoonist Jason. It’s the story of a girl named Gemmy who is determined to follow a map to the dreadful island where her father died—and maybe find a legendary treasure. After she teams up with a gang of disreputable pirates, adventure and mayhem ensue. While the book has the drollery and fatalism of Jason’s other work, Vehlmann contributes what might be considered a more rollicking note to the proceedings, as the island turns out to be a training ground for young assassins. Recommended!
The book that really put Vehlmann on my radar was Last Days of an Immortal, with art by Gwen de Bonneval, published here by Archaia. It’s an amazing pastiche on 50s science fiction that dwells on immortality, genetic engineering and the search for human perfection, drawn in an art style that mimics everything from Boris Artzybasheff to Kelly Freas. The story is equally evocative, following Elijah, a policeman in a future society where no one dies and crime is dealt with in a completely rational manner. Elijah has to deal with a long ago murder while pondering his own world weariness. It’s a multi-layered meditation on the meaning of life with a puzzling mystery at its core.
Two other Vehlmann series are available in English, Green Manor (Cinebooks), a Victorian mystery series, and 7 Psychopaths (Boom!) with art by Sean Phillips, about an elite team that is brought together to kill Hitler. As you can tell, high concepts are a Vehlmann specialty.
For further reading, you MUST READ this introduction to Vehlmann by Zainab Akhtarwho has actually read all of his English language books and does a much better job of describing his work than I could ever do:
I’ve chosen to start with French comics writer Fabien Vehlmann. Vehlmann, who got his big break in comics when he was hired as a writer for Spirou magazine in 1997- and hasn’t really looked back since, is an author whose work I think about quite often; I find him similar to Naoki Urasawa in that he’s able to write very different stories that jump from genre to genre and beyond, in an eminently engaging manner. Unlike Urasawa who illustrates his own work, Vehlmann either stands out or flies under the radar -depending on your perspective- because he collaborates with a variety of exceptionally good illustrators; there are no distinct running themes in his work, and because it looks so different each time, with a lot of the tone and feel provided by the artists, it can be easy to overlook who it’s written by. I admire that he wants to tell a range of diverse stories: sci-fi, Victorian murder mysteries, pirate tales, apocalyptic children’s bildungsromans- even as perhaps the comics scene in France facilitates that to a greater degree, and he appears to be someone who truly thrives on collaboration. There are writers who stick to what they’re good at, and those who write the same book over and over, but Vehlmann seems committed to simply writing strong and interesting stories.
There’s also his infrequently updated blog, with links to his numerous works in French (and the sad news that a second collaboration with Kerascoet didn’t even get a second volume published because it sold poorly.). And along with Gwen de Bonneval, Brüno, Cyril Pedrosa and Hervé Tanquerelle, Vehlmann puts out Professeur Cyclope, a digital comics magazine that plays with storytelling possibilities.
As Zainab suggests, the thing that attracts me to Vehlmann’s work is similar to what I like in Urasawa’s work: genre elements of suspense and mystery but coupled with great intelligence and relentless storytelling drive. Vehlmann is a great storyteller, first and foremost, with themes that are fully realized right to their devastating conclusions.
I’ll leave you with some preview pages from Last Days of an Immortal. Enjoy!
Last week, we introduced the persuasion plot hole. Over the next few weeks, we will add persuasion tools to our plot toolkit.
1. Ask for More: If Dick wants something, he can start off intentionally asking for too much so he can settle for something in the middle. This makes him seem like a reasonable kind of guy, except the part where he manipulated Jane by asking her to do something she'd never allow to get her to agree to something she mildly objected to. Children are masters of this technique.
2. Appeal to Authority: Dick may be getting nowhere in his conversation with Jane. He can play the authority card. The authority can be real or imagined. "They say" is so random. Who are they? "Authorities on the subject state..." Who are the authorities? Jane won't have time to verify them. Adding jargon and psychobabble gives his argument more power. Dick can flip this tactic and discount the authority Jane uses to support her argument. He can press her to come up with an answer as to who "they" are. He can refute the validity of the authority.
3. Assume Concession: Dick can circle around the point he is trying to make or the consensus is he trying to achieve. He can talk at cross purposes and end the conversation with, "Well, I'm glad we all agree then." Except no one really agreed, but they will doubt themselves. Did we agree? Maybe we did. If Dick pushes on in a confident manner, they may be bluffed into silence.
4. Attack the Posse: Dick can tear down Jane's objectives by attacking the basis for her assumptions. He can attack her friends, her coworkers, her group members or the social, political or religious body as a whole. He can deride her documents or the source of her information. Jane will be derailed into defending herself as apart from the group or into defending actions by the group she does not agree with. She will be sidelined into defending her source rather than her point.
5. Baffle them with Bull: If Jane seems unconvinced, Dick can bring in random and completely unrelated evidence to bolster his argument. Jane will be forced to respond to each unrelated thread, rather than arguing the main point. He can sum up his argument as if everything he just said supported it. Jane will either be confused enough to give in or will call him on it.
6. Bait and Switch: Dick wants to achieve C. He argues the merits of A. Jane fights back with B. Dick offers C as a compromise, which was his intention all along. Dick wants Jane to agree to a vacation at a golf resort. He starts off with suggesting they go fishing. Jane says, uh, no. She suggests they go to a bed and breakfast in Amish country. Dick says, uh, no. Dick suggests a spa resort in Arizona. Jane agrees to the compromise. Dick had already planned to meet up with his buddies in Arizona so it's a darn good thing Jane agreed. He doesn't tell her about that until they are on the plane or happens to run into his buddies at the hotel, setting up a new conflict.
7. Call Their Bluff: Characters all make blanket statements and threaten things they'd never back up. Dick has a date with Jane for dinner. He needs to get out of it. He suggests Hooters. She reacts negatively and says she'd rather eat at a motorcycle dive bar. Since the motorcycle dive bar is exactly where Dick needs to meet his contact, he calls her bluff. Jane is forced to either go with him or refuse to go with him, which suits him just fine. The date is called off. Next time, Dick needs to make a reservation at her favorite five-star restaurant to make up for it. Jane may bravely state that she is willing to do something against her better judgment to exaggerate a point. Dick agrees to do it. Jane has a problem. She has to wriggle out of it, change her tactics, or end or derail the conversation entirely.
8. Change the Name: Changing the name of a thing can render it less objectionable because it changes the set of objections that accompany it. Dick asks Jane to steal something. She objects, naturally. So he convinces her it isn't really stealing. It's borrowing. Or it's returning something to its rightful owner. Fanaticism can be religious freedom. Anarchists become freedom fighters. This is used rampantly in terms of political correctness and to justify what would otherwise be considered psychopathic behavior. Jane is likely to object to some things more than others. This also works if Jane refuses to grant Dick any ground and he switches to getting her to disagree with his point's polar opposite. It might confuse her into agreeing with him.
Next week, we continue to add persuasion tools to our writing kit.
For these and other fiction tools, you can pick up a copy of the Story Building Blocks: Crafting Believable Conflict in paperback or E-book.