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1. Writer Wednesday: Where It All Begins


It's my daughter's last week of summer break, and we've been busy formatting her first book and reading. She read three books in two days! I can't tell you how happy it makes me to see her love of the written word. She's even writing news articles--okay, so they're about Monster High dolls, but she's nine. ;) I'm amazed at how well she puts her thoughts to paper and/or screen.

She reminds me of someone--a little girl who always had a book in her face (hence my awful eyesight). A little girl who wrote poems and short stories and thought they made the best gifts for her family members.

For some of us, writing is something we've done since we could hold a pencil. But I know that's not the case for everyone, so today I want to hear how you came to be a lover of the written word (as a reader and/or writer).

How did it begin for you?

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2. Book Review: Not Dark Yet, by Berit Ellingsen

Not Dark Yet by Berit Ellingsen
Two Dollar Radio
ISBN: 978-1937412354
Fiction, 202 pages

I don't review a lot of books, but when I do it's because I really want to--I want to share something important and real that I think other writers and readers will enjoy and benefit from. That's why I'm  taking a look today at Not Dark Yet by author Berit Ellingsen, a writer who has enriched my world and inspired me to keep writing, keep striving, keep going, and always take the time to read a good book.

I first heard about Berit via Twitter, the best source I know for discovering books and authors I wouldn't usually have the chance to learn about. Thanks to so many bookstores disappearing from my neighborhood (three more have just gone bankrupt this past month), social media has become my primary source for literary browsing, and when I read a post about Berit and her collection of short stories: Beneath the Liquid Skin, I had to order the book, prontoNothing in my extensive reading life had prepared me for the power and originality of those stories, so naturally I couldn't wait to read her novel, Not Dark Yet. I don't think anything else I've read before or after can compare with either of these books.

Berit lives in Norway, and her work reflects a beautiful sense of place, an isolated starkness that is in direct contrast with much of my own experience. Even desert-y Albuquerque doesn't have the sharp, cold lunar feeling I get from her descriptions. Coupled with this strong geographic presence is a staggering sense of precision to every word she writes, an exactness that has me re-reading many of her sentences for the sheer pleasure of it. In many ways I consider her a "writer's writer" and after I finished reading Not Dark Yet I sat down with my journal to examine what it was that made me love this book so much. Here goes:
  • Setting. An unspecified future; a mysterious Nordic city; a world without clear boundaries, countries, or cultures: the world of Not Dark Yet is a mystery. Yet despite the deliberate masking of time and place, I don't think I read a a single description that left me wondering where I was, or what the characters were experiencing. As I read, I felt every needle of rain, every clod of mud, every veil of mist--and I was actually sorry that I couldn't live there--and this was a depiction of a world in chaos and dangerous change! I mean, what kind of skill makes an awful world attractive?
  • Characters. Main character Brandon Minamoto isn't your everyday protagonist (thank goodness). A complex near-loner with a troubled military history, Brandon is torn between the need to form relationships and the need to be true to himself. I sympathized with his plight every step of the way and was heartbroken when I had to say good-bye on the last page.
  • Plot. I hate plot-spoilers of any kind so I won't drop even a single hint, but I was hooked right from the beginning. I HAD to know: WHAT WILL HAPPEN TO BRANDON?? You'll have to read the book to find out, but his story arc kept me glued to my seat.
  • Writing Style. Oh, wow. There is a zen-like simplicity and clarity to Berit's voice and style that I admire immensely. Seemingly matter-of-fact and terse on the surface, each sentence builds toward the next, roiling on your sub-conscious like some menacing monolithic disaster threatening to change everything you know or believe is true. It's rare to come across so much power in a deceptively plain-spoken sentence, and I found myself constantly wondering how she managed to control it.
  • Subject Matter. I hesitate to call Not Dark Yet science fiction, but I can't think of another category that would fit as well. Sci-fi isn't usually my first choice when choosing a book, but when it goes in the direction of also being character-driven literary fiction, I'm a fan. Not Dark Yet is an excellent example of how to blend (and bend) genre distinctions to good advantage, and one I wish more books would emulate.
  • Metaphor. I've always been impressed with Berit's use of metaphor and symbolism. Whether the focus is on food, the weather, or just getting dressed for a holiday--each scene, story event, or snippet of back story is rich with added-value meaning and subtext.
  • Discussion Points. Which brings me to my favorite thing about this book: I could talk about it all day. It's a book that makes me think. Good literature should lead to great (and memorable) conversation, and I can't imagine anyone not having an opinion or strong feelings about what happens to Brandon and the rest of the cast. In other words, it's the perfect book club book--especially if club members enjoy digging deep and aren't afraid to not always agree on social issues, character motivation, or "what would you do?" if placed in Brandon's shoes. Strong stuff.
So with all that said, I think I have to read the book again. Not Dark Yet is quirky, original, and packed with secrets--the kind you can't wait to unravel and sit with for a long while after. I found the book extremely compelling and one that has stirred my curiosity and desire to learn more, write more, and even try my hand at some fan-art. Highly recommended for readers who enjoy an authentic book of ideas and a serious voyage of self-discovery. Five stars from me--six if I could!

Tip of the Day: Be sure to check out Berit Ellingsen and her wonderful books. After all, to a writer it's love and reading that makes the world go 'round!

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3. Nurturing Our Writing Lives: 5 Ways to Keep Writing

How can we nurture our own writing lives once the school year begins? 5 ways to help us keep writing.

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4. Monday Mishmash 8/22/16


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:
  1. Drafting  I had no intentions of drafting a new book right now, but you know how it is when you get an idea. This book will be very different for me. Different POV and genre. Eek!
  2. Last Week of Summer Vacation  :( No! My baby is starting fourth grade next Monday. Say it isn't so! She got the teacher she wanted but is sad that her best friends are not in her class. I'm preparing now to hold it together next Monday morning until I'm driving away from her school after drop-off. Send tissues please.
  3. After Loving You Cover Reveal   Friday is my cover reveal. Woo-hoo! Not that I'm excited or anything. ;)
  4. My Mom's Birthday!  Thursday is my mom's birthday. She reads these posts, so feel free to wish her a great day. Love you, Mom!
  5. Reading  With my daughter home, I read a lot of middle grade books over the summer. I do have some adult suspense books waiting for me though, and I'm looking forward to diving into those soon.
That's it for me. What's on your mind today?

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5. Interesting blog posts about writing – w/e August 19, 2016





Here’s my selection of interesting (and sometimes amusing) posts about writing from the last week:


7 Things That Are Ruining Amateur Book Reviews (Peter Derk)
https://litreactor.com/columns/7-things-that-are-ruining-amateur-book-reviews

Gaining Traction on non-Amazon Vendors -  Part 1 (Angela Quarles)
http://blog.janicehardy.com/2016/08/going-wide-gaining-traction-on-non.html

You, Your Agent, and Your Publisher (Mary Keeley)
www.booksandsuch.com/blog/dont-know-can-hurt/

Agent Agreements (Contracts/Dealbreakers) (Kristine Kathryn Rusch)
www.kriswrites.com/2016/08/17/business-musings-agent-agreements-contractsdealbreakers/

Having Fun With Structural Revision (Gaëtane Burkolter)
www.writerunboxed.com/2016/08/17/me-and-my-excite-o-meter-having-fun-with-structural-revision/

8 Ways to Be a Happy Author (Rachelle Gardner)
www.booksandsuch.com/blog/8-ways-happy-author/

A Quick Lesson in the Writing Process (Jerry Jenkins)
www.jerryjenkins.com/quick-lesson-writing-process/

The Four Misconceptions of "Show Don't Tell" (Martina Boone)
www.adventuresinyapublishing.com/2016/08/the-four-misconceptions-of-show-dont.html

The Unpublished Writer (Wendy Lawton)
www.booksandsuch.com/blog/the_unpublished_writer/

5 Story Opening Clichés That Need to Die (Max Booth III)
https://litreactor.com/columns/5-story-opening-cliches-that-need-to-die

How to Find the Right Critique Partner (K.M.Weiland)
www.helpingwritersbecomeauthors.com/how-to-find-the-right-critique-partner/

How to Describe a Character (James Scott Bell)
https://killzoneblog.com/2016/08/how-to-describe-a-character.html


If you found these useful, you may also like my personal selection of the most interesting blog posts from 2015, and last week’s list.


If you have a particular favorite among these, please let the author know (and me too, if you have time).  Also, if you've a link to a great post that isn't here, feel free to share.

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6. Writer Wednesday: Setbacks


I feel like this industry has been quite grim lately. Writers are experiencing setbacks all over the place. I'm sure this has always been the case, but it's being publicized more now than ever, and maybe that's a good thing because it shows others that a writer's life isn't all fun and games. It's tough!

But here's the thing. Setbacks are just that. They set you back a bit, but they aren't the end. I firmly believe that when things come too easily, we take them for granted. But when we have to work hard, we are more likely to appreciate the success we find. 

So to you writers out there who are feeling down because of setbacks, I challenge you to do this. Push forward and show the industry and the world that you're meant to do this. You are a writer and you WILL write. And remember that you have others like you to lean on. Let's all lift each other up and do what we're meant to do: write books!

*If you have a question you'd like me to answer from the other side of the editor's desk, feel free to leave it in the comments and I'll schedule it for a future post.

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7. Monday Mishmash 8/15/16


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:
  1. After Loving You Cover Reveal Sign-up  In case you missed it last week and would like to participate, sign-ups are still open for the cover reveal of After Loving You, my Ashelyn Drake NA romance. This is a social media cover reveal, so you don't need a blog to participate. Just post to any social media outlet between August 26-28. It's that easy! Sign up here.
  2. Revising  I'm revising a book I haven't looked at in well over a year. Now that's what I call fresh eyes after time away! I love having multiple drafts on my flash drive that I can return to much later like this.
  3. Getting Organized  I'm trying to get organized for my upcoming releases, which means I'm breaking out the cork board and Post-it notes. :) Yes, this makes me happy.
  4. Humidity  The humidity where I live has been well over 90%, so you can imagine how awful and unproductive it's made me feel. I can't wait for the weather to break. I'm a fall/spring girl at heart. 
  5. Back-to-School Countdown  I'm one of those parents who dreads the first day of school. My daughter has two weeks of summer break left, and I miss her already. :(
That's it for me. What's on your mind today?

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8. Interesting blog posts about writing – w/e August 12, 2016



Here’s my selection of interesting (and sometimes amusing) posts about writing from the last week:

Understanding Ebook Rights (Susan Spann)
http://writersinthestormblog.com/2016/08/understanding-ebook-rights/

Is This the Single Best Way to Write Powerful Themes? (K. M. Weiland) [Jon’s Pick of the Week]
www.helpingwritersbecomeauthors.com/single-best-way-write-powerful-themes/

Productive Communication (Mary Keeley)
www.booksandsuch.com/blog/productive-communication/

Don't Let Your Characters “Nod” Off (Janice Hardy)
http://blog.janicehardy.com/2016/08/dont-let-your-characters-nod-off.html

Quit or Press On? Be Willing To Take The Journey (Kevin E. Jackson)
www.adventuresinyapublishing.com/2016/08/quite-or-press-on-be-willing-to-take.html

Getting revenge on an agent who rejected you (Jane Lebak)
https://querytracker.blogspot.com/2016/08/getting-revenge-on-agent-who-rejected.html

Why You Should Query Agents For 6 + Months Before Promoting Your Self-Published Book (Sharon Bially)
www.writerunboxed.com/2016/08/08/why-you-should-query-agents-for-6-plus-months-before-promoting-your-self-published-book/

The Most Important Tip About Setting Descriptions (James Scott Bell)
https://killzoneblog.com/2016/08/the-most-important-tip-about-writing-setting-descriptions.html

Why most agents use form rejections (The Intern)
https://intheinbox.wordpress.com/2016/08/05/why-most-agents-use-form-rejections/



If you found these useful, you may also like my personal selection of the most interesting blog posts from 2015, and last week’s list.


If you have a particular favorite among these, please let the author know (and me too, if you have time).  Also, if you've a link to a great post that isn't here, feel free to share.

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9. Pushing Past the Middle




Writing a series of poems based on my trip to Taiwan last year wasn't on my 2016 to-do list. It really wasn't, but now that it's appeared, I can happily say I've battled through and my first draft is well and truly finished. Yay!

That said, it wasn't an easy journey, especially when I reached a place several weeks ago where I was well and truly stuck: right smack dab in the middle. I was uninspired, tired, and beginning to worry that the whole project was a major distraction and a waste of time.

Reaching the middle of any project rarely feels like a victory. Instead, all I can usually think of is how much more work I have to do to finishSo when I found myself in the middle of A Taiwan Sketchbook (my working title) rather than writing the second draft of my new novel, Ghazal, I suddenly realized how long it had taken me to get to where I was, and how much more effort I had to put into the project before I could type THE END. Just thinking about all those hours of work ahead of me sent me to the couch and a headache.

While I was lying there, feeling both guilty and utterly defeated, I thought of all the stages of my project that had brought me to where I was, starting with my GRAND IDEA:
  • The excitement of STARTING. It was so much fun. I love starting new projects. All that anticipation, planning, preparing new notebooks and buying new pens. Nothing better!
  • Once all my tools were in place, the next stage centered around starting new rituals, new schedules, new dedication--writing every day, staying on track, marking my progress on a calendar.
  • And then . . . I had to skip a day. An appointment, having to stay late at work, no food in the house . . . 
  • So I had to put in double-duty the next time I sat down to write to make up for lost time.
  • Which meant: this is starting to feel like WORK. Where'd the fun go?
  • Before I knew it, I was in the MIDDLE of a project and it all seemed like chaos and hell and something that would take me the rest of my life to complete, if I ever survived to tell the tale.
The thing about all this, however, is it's happened to me so often it's nothing new. I know in advance that there will always come a day in my writing when resistance looms large, quitting sounds wonderful, and I'd rather be reading or painting. I've been on that same couch with the same headache so many times before, and yet, guess what? I've always started writing again. Here's how you can too:
  • Give up--yes! At least for the moment. Stay on the couch, read, watch a movie, take a break. If you really have reached the middle of your work, you deserve a little time off!
  • When you feel rested, start back at the beginning when you got those nice writing supplies. Organize what you have already accomplished into new folders and binders; brainstorm and create lists of what you need to do to finish.
  • Forget about order and following an outline. Write the scenes or portions of your work you want to write, don't worry about transitions or a table of contents.
  • Concentrate on your ending first. Write your last scene (or poem, or paragraph depending on what it is you're working on) and craft the rest of your story to fit your conclusion or theme.
  • Calculate how much time it took you to reach the middle. Now assign that same amount of time, plus an extra few weeks or so for emergencies, and give yourself a deadline. Write it down on a calendar.
  • Work fast. Remember this is first draft stuff. Just get there--it doesn't matter how!
If you've tried all this, though, and do discover that your heart truly isn't in a project, give yourself permission to stop, maybe even quit. Don't toss any of your work, but simply put it away and move on to something new. And if you find yourself missing the project at a later date, but you're not sure how to re-start it, evaluate what it was that kept you from continuing. Was it your choice of genre, voice, or style? Were you being too ambitious and trying to add too many (and superfluous) elements to your story-line? Were you trying to please readers rather than yourself? Spend a few days journaling about your situation and then see if things are really as bad as you thought they were. With any luck and a lot of determination you should be able to find some valuable solutions. 

Tip of the Day: Stuck in the middle of your WIP? Brainstorm! Create a list of 100 new "what-if's" and scenes. See which ones can inject fresh energy into your manuscript. And always keep in mind, once you've passed "the middle," it's all downhill from there!

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10. The Heart of Writing: The Revision Process

New Voices Award sealIt’s August and with the New Voices Award deadline approaching in just seven weeks, participating writers may be starting to feel the heat. No sweat! The New Voices Award blog post series has got you covered from the summer sun of stress.

At this stage, you’ve probably got your cover letter and story written down. You’ve also read July’s post on the importance of voice in a story and made your narrative even more engaging to readers. Congrats! That’s two essential checks on the New Voices To-do list –but don’t seal the envelope just yet! Now that your story is down it’s time to begin the revision process.

Revision is an important part of the writing experience. It’s about revisiting what you’ve written, identifying what needs to be strengthened, and rewriting to improve your story. Every writer’s revision process is different so to provide some guidance we interviewed two New Voices Award Winners, Linda Boyden (The Blue Roses) and Jennifer Torres (Finding the Music/ En pos de la musica), about how their revision processes helped them prepare their stories for the New Voices Award.

What inspired you to write your story? Did you write it specifically for the New Voices Award, or was it something you were working on already?

 Linda Boyden: In 1978 my maternal grandfather, Edward Dargis, passed away. I was about to have my last baby and couldn’t attend his funeral 3,000 miles away. Until I went to college, we had lived in the same neighborhood and were very close. He worked at a factory but was happiest in his garden. A few nights after he passed, he came to me in a dream. He stood in a beautiful flower garden, and like Rosalie’s Papa his face was “smooth, not wrinkled.” In the dream he told me to stop grieving because he was happy. From that point on I knew I needed to write this story as a gentle way to broach a tough topic.

from The Blue Roses
from The Blue Roses

Many years later when my husband’s company moved us to Maui, I left teaching and decided to follow my dream of becoming a writer. I enrolled in a community college writing course. The instructor assigned us the task of writing 1,000 words a week so the first draft of The Blue Roses was actually homework! When he returned it he commented, “I wanted to like Rosalie more, but I couldn’t.” That hurt so I put the manuscript away. Months later I rethought and revisited. By the time I learned of Lee & Low’s New Voices Award, the manuscript had been through a few revisions. After winning, it went through a few more with my careful editors, Laura Atkins and Louise May.

Jennifer Torres: Finding the Music was inspired by my own childhood—growing up in a noisy family, being close to my grandparents and their stories, hearing mariachi music playing in the background of weddings, birthday parties and other special celebrations. It was also inspired by stories I covered as a newspaper reporter: one, an obituary for a farm worker who gave free mariachi lessons to neighborhood kids on his time off, and another about the sense of community that grew around the mariachi program at Cesar Chavez High School in Stockton, California. I started working on the book long before I learned about the New Voices Award. After researching publishers, I knew I wanted to submit my manuscript to Lee & Low. I went to the website to learn more about the company and to review submission guidelines—that’s when I discovered the award.

What does your revision process look like? At what point in your writing process do you begin making changes?

LB: I write at a certain time every day. When working on a picture book, I rough it out on paper and revisit the next morning. I revise the previous work then create new. Next day, repeat. When it’s almost “good” I print it, read it aloud, and revise more. I love the process: revision is the heart of writing.

JT: I always catch myself wanting to revise as I go, making changes today on what I wrote yesterday. But I try to resist! It’s too easy for me to get hung up on small details that way. I think I do much better work when I’m revising a finished draft. I can step back with a sense of the story’s full scope. The problems stand out more clearly, and, often, so do the solutions.

How often do you share your works-in-progress with other people? Are you part of a critique group or is there someone specific you rely on for feedback?

from Finding the Music
from Finding the Music

LB: I’ve been part of many critique groups over the years. Now, I share with trusted individuals only and generally online. I read most rough drafts aloud to my husband who hears the mistakes. I also share all my picture book manuscripts with one young granddaughter who also has remarkable insights.

JT: I’m not part of a critique group-I think it could be good though! I do have a few friends who I ask to read drafts after I’ve finished a couple of rounds of revision on my own. They’re talented writers—whose styles and voices are nothing like mine—and they give thoughtful and honest feedback. It’s super helpful to me to see my work from someone else’s perspective, especially when the story has been all alone in my head until then.

What is something surprising you learned while preparing your story for publication?

LB: The most surprising part was discovering that authors and illustrators seldom meet, or even have contact. My Lee & Low editors had no problem with illustrator, Amy Cordova, and me communicating. Not only did this collaboration strengthen our book, Amy and I have remained friends.

JT: During the publication process, my editor let me know that Finding the Music would be bilingual (It was initially English-only). This meant some extra editing and paring down, but I was really excited about the decision! What was surprising to me, though, was how adding the Spanish text added so much dimension to the book as a whole. I can’t imagine it any other way now, and it’s a good reminder of how the collaborative nature of the process can do so much to enrich storytelling.

How has winning New Voices Award changed the way you write or revise stories?

LB: Winning the first New Voices Award gave me something I lacked as a writer: self-confidence. Though I understood picture books, I had no training in becoming a writer other than the one community college course mentioned above. Winning also gave me the opportunity to learn from the wonderful editorial staff at Lee & Low Books.

 JT: Coming from a newspaper background, I already had big appreciation for editing and revising as part of the writing process. But at a newspaper, it happens so fast. Winning the New Voices Award and preparing Finding the Music for publication helped me realize how valuable it can be to step back from a project, and approach it again weeks (or even months) later with fresh eyes and perspective.

The Blue Roses by Linda Boyden is available now!

The Blue Roses cover image

Finding the Music/ En pos de la musica by Jennifer Torres is available now!

Finding the Music cover image

For more details about submitting to the New Voices Award please visit the New Voices Award page.

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11. Writer Wednesday: Self-doubt


Right now I'm revising a book that might be my favorite book I've written to date. I haven't revised it in a while, and that distance made me fall in love with the story and characters all over again. Great, right?

Yes and no. If you're like me, when you read a manuscript you truly love, you get that "Oh no! What if I never write another book as good as this one?" feeling. Self-doubt is awful, but we all experience it. After I got my first book deal, I felt unable to write another book. I thought that was it. One book and my career is finished. Of course it wasn't, but that fear can be crippling.

As I revise, I keep trying to tell myself that it's a good thing that I love this book so much and that I should ride this writer's high and work on the next one immediately. Still, doubt keeps creeping in. It's sort of like being on a roller coaster—feeling great one minute and like a failure the next.

How do you deal with self-doubt? Do you push through and hope the next manuscript surprises you?

*If you have a question you'd like me to answer from the other side of the editor's desk, feel free to leave it in the comments and I'll schedule it for a future post.

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12. Interesting blog posts about writing – w/e August 05, 2016



Here’s my selection of interesting (and sometimes amusing) posts about writing from the last week:

5 Traits of Successful Writers (Mary Keeley)
www.booksandsuch.com/blog/5-traits-successful-writers/

The Waiting is (One of) the Hardest Part(s) (Liz Michalski)
www.writerunboxed.com/2016/07/29/the-waiting-is-one-of-the-hardest-parts/

Don’t Make This Mistake With Your Story Structure (K. M. Weiland) [Jon’s Pick of the Week]
www.helpingwritersbecomeauthors.com/dont-make-mistake-story-structure/

How to Put More Drive in Your Plot (Brent Hartinger)
www.adventuresinyapublishing.com/2016/07/author-brent-hartinger-on-how-to-put.html

Three Words That Are Killing Your Manuscript (Janice Hardy)
http://blog.janicehardy.com/2016/07/three-words-that-are-killing-your.html

Warning: Before You Self-Publish (Jerry Jenkins)
www.jerryjenkins.com/warning-self-publish/

Keep at it. (Jane Lebak)
https://querytracker.blogspot.com/2016/07/keep-at-it.html

I'm the Bad Guy? (Cara Lopez Lee)
http://bloodredpencil.blogspot.com/2016/07/im-bad-guy.html

A Definition of Author Platform (Jane Friedman)
https://janefriedman.com/author-platform-definition/

Today’s query batch: how I replied and why (The Intern)
https://intheinbox.wordpress.com/2016/07/23/todays-query-batch-how-i-replied-and-why/



If you found these useful, you may also like my personal selection of the most interesting blog posts from 2015, and last week’s list.


If you have a particular favorite among these, please let the author know (and me too, if you have time).  Also, if you've a link to a great post that isn't here, feel free to share.

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13. Interview: Gwendolyn Hooks on the Unsung Hero of Medicine, Vivien Thomas

Tiny Stitches cover imageTiny Stitches: The Life of Medical Pioneer Vivien Thomas is the compelling story of Vivien Thomas, an African American surgical technician who developed the first procedure used to perform open-heart surgery on children. In this interview, author Gwendolyn Hooks discusses the legacy of this medical pioneer and what inspired her to write about a man whose research helped to save countless lives.

What inspired you to write about Vivien Thomas?

A friend’s grandson was diagnosed with tetralogy of Follet. She watched the movie Something the Lord Made which is the story of Vivien Thomas. She loaned me the movie and the rest is history! He is a hero. He did so much and so few know his name. I saw his portrait at Johns Hopkins Hospital and felt him saying “Tell my story.”

In what way is Vivien Thomas a relevant role model for young A door closed, but he opened another. I think one of his messages to young people would be to find that other door.readers today?

Vivien is a strong role model for young people even after all these years. Sure he was disappointed and mad after he lost his money when his bank closed during the Great Depression. Vivien was tough and resilient. He put aside his college dreams and found a way to support himself. A door closed, but he opened another. I think one of his messages to young people would be to find that other door.

What did you find most surprising in your research of Thomas’s life?

Even as a young boy of 13, his mind was on his future. He worked afterschool and summers with his father. Other boys were playing sandlot baseball and I’m sure Vivien did on occasion, but he was passionate about earning money and putting it to good use. He bought his school clothes and deposited the rest in a savings account.

Is there a fact about Thomas that you didn’t get to put in the book?

Before Vivien found the job at Vanderbilt, he worked for a contractor. One time he had to repair a wooden floor. He repaired it, but it wasn’t his best work. His boss could tell where he laid the new wood and told him it wasn’t acceptable. Vivien did it over and the second time, it was seamless. He learned a lesson that day that he never forgot. Do your best work the first time. In medicine there might not be a second time.

Interior spread of Tiny Stitches

The most painful parts of Tiny Stitches, for us, were the scenes in which Thomas encounters the injustices of racism in spite of his achievements. Why was it important for you to write about these realities, and what do you think young readers can learn from them? 

I wanted readers to know he didn’t lead an easy and carefree life. Despite your intelligence and achievements, there are some who will never give you credit for it. It’s important to know who you are, what you are capable of and never let anyone tell you otherwise.

Vivien Thomas was not given the credit he deserved for his leadership in “blue baby” operations until 1971, how do you think Thomas must have felt once he received recognition?

He was overjoyed that the Old Hands Club asked him to sit for his formal portrait (the one in Johns Hopkins Hospital) and planned a formal recognition ceremony. That and the honorary degree, the faculty appointment were all appreciated by Vivien. He had such a generous spirit. I’ve talked with a former surgical resident who remembers his generous spirit even after his contributions were ignored. I think it’s only human to feel discouraged, but those feelings did not deflate his love of research.

What advice would you have for young readers about following their dreams in spite of obstacles?

If an obstacle is placed in your path, veer left or right, but keep going. Keep stretching and moving forward. Read books, especially biographies, and learn how others did it. Vivien prepared himself for his dream. He was an excellent student. Study. Join organizations in your school or community. This is a perfect way to learn about careers you never knew existed and perhaps find a mentor.

What do you hope readers will take away from Vivien Thomas’ story?

I hope readers and especially young ones will remember that dreams and goals can change, but your life won’t if you don’t go after new ones. If Vivien did it with all that was set against him, you can do it now.

Learn more about Tiny Stitches: The Life of Medical Pioneer Vivien Thomas here.

Author Gwendolyn Hooks

Gwendolyn Hudson Hooks was born in Savannah, Georgia. Her father was in the Air Force, so Gwen and her family moved a lot when she was a child. Her first stop in every new city was the local library where she got her new library card. Gwendolyn is the author of many books, including Bebop Books’ Can I Have a Pet? and Lee & Low’s Tiny Stitches. Gwen now lives in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, with her husband and their three children. Visit her online at gwendolynhooks.com.

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14. Writer Wednesday: Cover Clones


Today's topic comes from Sheena-Kay, who posed the question:

How do you avoid ending up with duplicate covers to other authors? Especially with use of stock photo images? Is digital manipulation enough and is going custom always viable with meager pockets?

Duplicate or similar covers happen more than we'd like. There's even a list on Goodreads called cover clones. And I have books on that list. It happens because of stock images. Those images are bought countless times. In fact, my cover for Touch of Death even appears on a slot machine! So how do you avoid this?

The only way to be absolutely sure your cover image won't appear anywhere else is to have it custom made, either by means of a photo shoot or illustrator (who promises not to sell that image to anyone else). That can be costly though. So if you have to use stock images, you want to make sure that the image is manipulated enough to make it unique. 

Filters, layers, zoom, and rotation can all be used to help. Filters will create a different effect on the photo, playing with lighting and contrast. Layers are wonderful because it means you are using other images and layering them together to create a new image. Zooming in on a photo will remove background and can sometimes make the original image hard to recognize if it's an extreme close-up. Rotation is good, but it doesn't change the image much. Using a combination of all of these would yield the most results.

So if you want a unique cover, you can accomplish that with stock photos as long as you do enough manipulation. But keep in mind that your cover model WILL appear on other covers. It's going to happen if you use stock photos. But you can change that model's hair color, eye color, clothing color, etc to make her slightly different.

Do any of you have books with cover clones?

*If you have a question you'd like me to answer from the other side of the editor's desk, feel free to leave it in the comments and I'll schedule it for a future post.

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15. We Are Writers Here! Starting with What Matters Most in Writing Workshop

When I think about what I first want my students to know, what matters most to me as a teacher of writing, more than capital letters or topic sentences or punctuation, I want them to believe they have ideas worth sharing and stories worth telling. I want them to know their voice matters and their words can make a difference. I want them to believe they are writers, right now, whatever their reading proficiency, whatever their language background, whatever their home circumstances. WE ARE WRITERS HERE. We all matter, we all belong, we all can and should write.

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16. Free Writing

Free writing helps get your character out of your head and onto your pages.

http://www.adventuresinyapublishing.com/2016/06/free-writing-how-to-get-out-of-your.html

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17.

Jenni Holm is here today to tell us that currently, children's graphic novel/comics publishing is a veritable Wild Wild West, the processes of acquisition and production are different for all publishing houses, but the ones that ARE making kids comics are behind them whole hog, which is great to hear!

She recommends you read the Comics Making Bible, aka Understanding Comics by Scott McCloud. (I'd add the New Testaments of Comics Making are Jessica Abel and Matt Madden's Drawing Words & Writing Pictures plus the follow up, Mastering Comics.)

She briefly tells us how comics were written, and shows us how the actual script pages compare: the old standard Stan Lee Method, the exhaustive/OCD Alan Moore method, and the classic, screenwriting style of script like a Joss Whedon would use. Jenni recommends using a screenplay format or her storyboard format as mentioned below, but probably NOT the Marvel Comic or Alan Moore format, which most traditional children's book editors might not be familiar with.

All do in some way separate out visually in the script the dialogue vs. action vs. narration. How do you use each part in your graphic novel script?

Dialogue: Same as prose, only now in speech bubbles!

Narration: More complicated, primarily used for scene transitions, major backgroun set-up, or increasingly internal monologue, occasionally even as a character, like the snarky narrator in BABYMOUSE.

Action: Stage directions/everything else that happens.

Jenni shares with us the various ways you rough out a comic, different types of storyboards, some of which are artist driven (sketches are fairly fleshed out and laid out and basic composition is done), some that are author driven.


HOW A BABYMOUSE GETS MADE:

Jenni and Matt's graphic novels always start with story first. Jenni and Matt come up with a log line, and then Jenni starts planning the story with this sort of storyboard:


Jenni already knows that the final published BABYMOUSE is going to be 96 pages, which equals about 56 pages of this storyboard.

After Jenni writes it all out, it goes to Matt, and then the editor, and when everybody loves it, it goes back to Matt for thumbnailing.

Those thumbnails get laid out page by page and are then sent to the art director who double checks it for clarity and printing guidelines.

After that it goes back to Matt to do the final art and color spotting!

TADA!

Jenni lists the children's publishers doing kid's comics today:

GRAPHIX (probably biggest commercial titles publisher via Scholastic)
First Second (all ages/arty)
Random House (younger/elementary school)
ABRAMS (Nathan Hale and Cece Bell, Wimpy Kid)
TOON BOOKS (via Candlewick, super young end of spectrum)
DC and MARVEL (may want to start YA)
BOOM STUDIOS (Lumberjanes)

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18. Reality Affects


Bonnie Nadzam's recent essay at Literary Hub, "What Should Fiction Do?", is well worth reading, despite the title. (The only accurate answer to the question in the title [which may not be Nadzam's] is: "Lots of stuff, including what it hasn't done yet...") What resonates for me in the essay is Nadzam's attention to the ways reality effects intersect with questions of identity — indeed, with the ways that fictional texts produce ideas about identity and reality. I especially loved Nadzam's discussion of how she teaches writing with such ideas in mind.

Nadzam starts right off with a bang:
An artistic practice that perpetually reinforces my sense of self is not, in my mind, an artistic practice. I’m not talking about rejecting memoir or characters “based on me.” What I mean is I don’t have the stomach for art that purports to “hold up a mirror to nature,” or for what this implies, philosophically, about selfhood and the world in which we live.
This is a statement that avant-gardes have been making since at least the beginning of the 20th century — it is the anti-mimetic school of art, a school at which I have long been a happy pupil. Ronald Sukenick, whose purposes are somewhat different to Nadzam's, wrote in Narralogues that "fiction is a matter of argument rather than of dramatic representation" and "it is the mutability of consciousness through time rather than representation that is the essential element of fiction." Sukenick proposes that all fiction, whether opaquely innovative or blockbuster entertainment, "raises issues, examines situations, meditates solutions, reflects on outcomes" and so is a sort of reasoning and reflection. "The question," he writes, "is only whether a story reflects thoughtfully, or robotically reflects the status quo with no illuminating angle of vision of its own."

Magritte, "The Human Condition", 1933

Sukenick, too, disparages the "mirror to reality" or "mirror to nature" idea: "Once the 'mirror of reality' argument for fiction crumbles, possibilities long submerged in our tradition open up, and in fact a new rationale for fiction becomes necessary."

Nadzam's essay provides some possibilities for remembering what has been submerged in the tradition of fiction and for creating new rationales for fiction's necessity:
I want fiction to bend, for its structure not to mirror the reality I think I see, but for its form and structure to help me peel back and question the way reality seems. The way I seem. I love working with the English language precisely because it fails. Even the most perfect word or phrase or narrative can at best shadow and haunt the phenomena of the world. Words and stories offer a way of experiencing being that is in their most perfect articulation a beat removed from direct experience. And so have I long mistrusted those works in which representation and words function without a hiccup, creating a story that is meant to be utterly believed.
Again, not at all new, but necessary because these ideas so push against dominant assumptions about fiction (and reality) today.

An example of one strain of dominant assumptions: Some readers struggle to separate characters from writers. On Twitter recently, my friend Andrew Mitchell, a writer and editor, expressed frustration with this tendency, saying: "EVERYTHING a character says/does in a story reflects EXACTLY what the writer believes, right? Based on the comments I just read: YES!" As I said to Andrew in reply, this way of thinking results from certain popular types of literary analysis and pedagogy, ones that seek Message from art, ones that want literature to be a paragon of Self Expression, with the Self either a fragile, wounded bird or an allegorical representative of All Such Selfs. It's "write what you know" taken to its logical conclusion: write only what you know about what and who you are. (Good luck writing a story about a serial killer if you're not one.) Such assumptions are anti-imagination and, ultimately, anti-art.

These dominant assumptions aren't limited to classrooms and naive readers. Consider this, from Achy Obejas's foreword to The Art of Friction (ed. Charles Blackstone & Jill Talbot):
When my first book, We Came All the Way from Cuba So You Could Dress Like  This?, was released in 1994, my publishers were ecstatic at the starred review it received in Publishers Weekly.

But though I appreciated the applause, I was a bit dismayed.  The review referred to the seven pieces that comprise the book as “autobiographical essays.” I found this particularly alarming, since six of the seven stories were first-person narrations, mostly Puerto Rican and Mexican voices, while I am Cuban, and one was from the point of view of a white gay man named Tommy who is dying of AIDS.

I’d have thought that the reviewer might have noticed that nationality, race, and gender seemed to shift from story to story—and that is what they were, stories, not essays; fiction, not memoir—but perhaps that reviewer, like many others who followed, felt more comforted in believing that the stories were not products of the imagination but lived experiences.
Imagination is incomprehensible and terrifying. In the classroom, I see this all the time when students read anything even slightly weird — at least one will insist the writer must have been on drugs. When a person reads a work of fiction and their first impulse is to either seek out the autobiographical elements or declare the writer to be a drug addict, then we know that that reader has no experience with or understanding of imagination. For such readers, based on a true story are the five most comforting words to read.

I come back again and again to a brief passage from one of my favorites of Gayatri Spivak's books, Readings:
I am insisting that all teachers, including literary criticism teachers, are activists of the imagination. It is not a question of just producing correct descriptions, which should of course be produced, but which can always be disproved; otherwise nobody can write dissertations. There must be, at the same time, the sense of how to train the imagination, so that it can become something other than Narcissus waiting to see his own powerful image in the eyes of the other. (54)
There must be the sense of how to train the imagination so that it can become something other than Narcissus waiting to see his own powerful image in the eyes of the other.

To return to Bonnie Nadzam's essay: Another dominant force that keeps fiction from becoming too interesting, keeps readers from reading carefully, and prevents the education of literary imagination is mass media (which these days basically means visual/cinematic media). I love mass media and visual media for all sorts of reasons, but if we ignore pernicious effects then we can't adjust for them. Nadzam writes:
...I’ve noticed that with much contemporary fiction, when we read, we’re often not asked to imagine we’re reading a history, biography, diary or anything at all. Often the text doesn’t even ask the reader to be aware of the text as text. With much fiction, we seem to pretend we are watching a movie. And it is supposed to be a good thing if a novel is “cinematic.”
Much fiction today, especially fiction that achieves any level of popularity, seems to me to draw not just structurally but emotionally from television. At its best, it's The Wire (perhaps the great melodrama of our era -- and I mean that as high praise); more commonly, it's a Lifetime movie-of-the-week. TV, like pop songs, knows the emotional moves it needs to pull off to make its audience feel what the audience desires to feel -- make your audience feel something they don't desire to feel, and most of them will turn on you with hate and scorn.

The giveaway, I think, is the narrowness of the prose aesthetic in all fiction that pulls its effects from common wells of emotion, because a complex, unfamiliar prose structure will get in the way of readers drinking up the emotions they desire. Such writing may not itself be inherently rich with emotion; all it needs to do is transmit signs that signal feelings already within the reader's repertoire. Keep the prose structure and style familiar, keep the emotions within the expected range, and the writer only needs to point toward those emotions for the reader to feel them. The reader becomes Pavlov's dog, salivating not over real food, but over the expectation of it. If an identity group exists, then that identity group can train its members toward particular structures of feeling. If the structures are even minimally in place, then members in good standing of an identity group will receive the emotional payoff they desire. Fiction then becomes a confirmation of identity and emotion, not a challenge to it.

(Tangentially: The radical potential of melodrama is to trick audiences into feeling emotions they would not otherwise feel and to complicate expected emotions. This was, for instance, the great achievement of Uncle Tom's Cabin, a book that is terribly written in all sorts of ways, but which mobilized -- even weaponized -- sentiment to an extraordinary degree. The same could be said for The Wire, though with significantly less social effect [Linda Williams has some thoughts on this, if I'm remembering her book correctly].)

Anyone who's taught creative writing will tell you that lots of students don't aspire to write for the sake of writing so much as they aspire to write movies on paper. Which is fine, in and of itself, but if students want to write movies, they should take screenwriting and film production courses. And if I want to watch a movie, I'll watch a movie, not read a book.

Movies, TV, and video games are the dominant narrative forms of our time, so it should be no surprise that fiction often resembles those dominant forms. Even the most blockbustery of bestselling novels can't compete for dominance (and almost every bestselling novel these days is a movie-in-a-book, anyway, so they're just contributing to the dominance). Look how excited people get when they find out their favorite book will be turned into a movie. It's like Pinocchio being turned into a real boy!

What gets lost is the literary. Not in some high-falutin' sense of the Great Books, but in the technical sense of what written texts can do that other media either can't or don't do as well. Conversely, other media have things they do that written texts don't do as well, or at all — this is what bugs me when people write about films as if they're novels, for instance, because it loses all sense of what is distinctly cinematic. But that's a topic for another time...

Nadzam discusses how she teaches fiction, and I hope at some point she writes a longer essay about this:
When I do “teach” creative writing, I point out that a work of formal realism (which I neither condemn nor condone) usually adheres to a particular formula: Exposition informs a person’s Psychology, from which arises their Character, out of which certain Motives emerge, based upon which the character takes Action, from which Plot results (EPiC MAP). And what formal realism achieved thereby was answering some of the metaphysical questions raised by Enlightenment thinkers about what the self, or character, might be—a person is a noun. A changing noun, perhaps, but a noun nonetheless—somehow separate from the flux of the world they inhabit. The students I’ve had who want to “be writers” hear about EPiC MAP and diligently set to work. The artists in the class, however—the kindred spirits with the mortal wound—they look at me skeptically. Something about that doesn’t feel right, they say. I don’t want to do it that way, they say. Can we break those rules? And each of their “stories” is a terrible, fascinating mess. Are the stories messes because these writers are breaking with habit, forcing readers to break with expectation, or is the EPiC MAP really an effective mirror? I grant that this is an impossible question to answer, but an essential question to raise. By my lights these students are trying, literally, to re-make the world.
This reminded me of Mac Wellman's longstanding practice of encouraging his playwrighting students to write "bad" plays. The New York Times describes this amusingly:
He asks students to write bad plays, to write plays with their nondominant hands, to write a play that takes five hours to perform and covers a period of seven years. Ms. Satter recalled an exercise in which she had to write a play in a language she barely knew.

“I wrote mine in extremely limited Russian,” she wrote in an email. “Then we translated them back into English and read them aloud. The results were these oddly clarified, quiveringly bizarre mini-gems.”

Mr. Wellman explained: “I’m not trying to teach them how to write a play. I’m trying to teach them to think about what kind of play they want to write.”
Further, from a 1992 interview:
Inevitably, if you start mismatching pronouns, getting your tenses wrong, writing sentences that are too long or too short, you will begin to say things that suggest a subversive political reality.
One of the most effective exercises I do with students (of all levels) is to have them make a list of "writing rules" — the things they have been told or believe to be key to "good writing". I present this to them seriously. I want them to write down what they really believe, which is often what teachers past have taught them. Then, for the next assignment, I tell them to write something in which they break all those rules. Every single one. Some students are thrilled (breaking rules is fun!), some are terrified (we're not supposed to break rules!), but again and again it leads to some fascinating insights for them. It can be liberating, because they discover the freedom of choice in writing, and do things with words that they would never have given themselves permission to do on their own. It's also educative, because they discover that some of the rules, at least for some situations, make sense to them. Then, though, they don't apply those rules ignorantly and unreflectively: when they follow those rules in the future, they do so because the rules make sense to them.

(I make them read Gertrude Stein, too. I make them try to write like Gertrude Stein, especially at her most abstract. [Tender Buttons works well.] It's harder than it looks. They scoff at Stein at first, but once they try to imitate her, they struggle, usually, and discover how wedded their minds are to a particular way of writing and particular assumptions about sense and purpose.)

(I show them Carole Maso's book Break Every Rule. I tell them it's a good motto for a writer.)

To learn new ways to write, to educate our imaginations, we need not only to think about new possibilities but to look at old models, especially the strange and somewhat forgotten ones. Writers who only read what is near at hand are starving themselves, starving their imaginations.

Nadzam returns to 18th century writers, a trove of possibilities:
Fielding thought a crucial and often overlooked aspect of the theatrum mundi metaphor was the emphasis the metaphor puts on the role of the audience, and the audience’s tendency to hastily judge the character of his fellow men. We are not supposed to assume, Fielding’s narrator tells us in Tom Jones, that just because the brilliant 18th-century actor David Garrick plays the fool, Garrick himself is a fool. Nor should we assume that the fool we meet in life is actually—or always—a fool. How then is Fielding’s audience to determine the character of Fielding’s contemporary who plays the part of an actor playing the part of a ghost puppet who represents a real-life individual whose eccentric and condemnable behavior Fielding satirizes? For Fielding, there is no such thing as an un-interpreted experience; an instance of mimetic simulation cannot be considered “truth” (a clear image in a well-polished mirror) because truth itself is the very act of mimetic simulation.
Seeking out writers from before fiction's conventions were conventional helps us see new possibilities. (This is one of the values of Steven Moore's two-volume "alternative history" of the novel, which upends so many received ideas about what novels are and aren't, and when they were what they are or aren't. Also Margaret Anne Doody's The True Story of the Novel. Also so much else.)

Finally, one of the central concerns of Nadzam's essay is the way that assumptions about fiction reproduce and reify assumptions about identity:
...what is now generally accepted as “fiction” emerged out of an essentialism that is oddly consoling in its reduction of each individual to a particular set of characteristics, and the reality they inhabit a background distinct from this self. At worst, behind this form are assumptions about identity and reality that may prevent us from really knowing or loving ourselves or each other, and certainly shield us from mystery.
So much fiction seems to see people as little more than roleplaying game character sheets written in stone. Great mysteries of motivation, great changes in conviction or belief, all these too often get relegated to the realms of the "unrealistic" — and yet the true realism is the one that knows our movement from one day to the next is mostly luck and magic.

Relevant here also is a marvelous essay by Stephen Burt for Los Angeles Review of Books, partly a review of poetry by Andrew Maxwell and Kay Ryan, partly a meditation on how lyric poetry works. More fiction writers ought to learn from poetry. (More fiction reviewers ought to learn from the specificity and attention to language and form in Burt's essay, and in many essays on poetry.) Consider:
A clever resistance to semantic function, an insistence that we just don’t know, that words can turn opaque, pops up every few lines and yet never takes over a reader’s experience: that’s what you get when you try to merge aphorism (general truth) and lyric (personal truth) and Maxwell’s particular line of the North American and European avant-garde (what is truth?). It haunts, it teases, it invites me to return. By the end of the first chapbook, “Quotation or Paternity,” Maxwell has asked whether lyric identification is also escapism: “Trying to identify, it means / Trying to be mistaken / About something else.” Poetic language is, perhaps, the record of a mistake: in somebody else’s terms, we misrecognize ourselves.
And:
We can never be certain how much of our experience resembles other people’s, just as we can’t know if they see our “blue”.... Nor can we know how much of what we believe will fall apart on us next year. ... His poems understand how tough understanding yourself, or understanding anyone else, or predicting their behavior, or putting reflection into words can be, and then forgive us for doing it anyway...
We need more fiction like Stephen Burt's description of Andrew Maxwell's poems: More fiction that understands how tough understanding yourself, or understanding anyone else, or predicting their behavior, or putting reflection into words can be, and then forgives us for doing it anyway.

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19. Interesting blog posts about writing – w/e July 15th, 2016



Here’s my selection of interesting (and sometimes amusing) posts about writing from the last week:

Discount Abuse (Contracts/Dealbreakers) (Kristine Kathryn Rusch)
www.kriswrites.com/2016/07/13/business-musings-discount-abuse-contractsdealbreakers/

Write Book One, Not Book Two (Janice Hardy)
http://blog.janicehardy.com/2016/07/write-book-one-not-book-two.html

The Long and the Short of Stories (or advice on short fiction) (James R. Tuck)
http://blog.janicehardy.com/2016/07/the-long-and-short-of-stories-or-advice.html

5 Tips to Finish Your First Draft (Amy E. Reichert)
http://writersinthestormblog.com/2016/07/5-tips-to-finish-your-first-draft/

Four Major Stumbles by Newer Writers (Larry Brooks) [Jon’s Pick of the Week]
https://killzoneblog.com/2016/07/four-major-stumbles-by-newer-writers.html

Writing Fiction for Middle-Grade Readers (Sophie Masson)
www.writerunboxed.com/2016/07/11/writing-fiction-for-middle-grade-readers/

Helpful Tools and Sites for Writers (Elizabeth Spann Craig)
www.elizabethspanncraig.com/4563/helpful-tools-sites-writers/

How to Write an Eating Scene (James Scott Bell)
https://killzoneblog.com/2016/07/how-to-write-an-eating-scene.html

Query Letters Part 1: The Pitch (Annie Neugebauer)
www.writerunboxed.com/2016/07/09/query-letters-part-1-the-pitch/

In An Interesting Twist, B&N to Sell Self-Published Books In Stores (Thad Mcllroy)
www.bookbusinessmag.com/post/interesting-twist-bn-sell-self-published-books/


If you found these useful, you may also like my personal selection of the most interesting blog posts from 2015, and last week’s list.

If you have a particular favorite among these, please let the author know (and me too, if you have time).  Also, if you've a link to a great post that isn't here, feel free to share.

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20. Monday Mishmash 7/18/16


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:
  1. Back to Normal  I returned from my blogging break last Friday. Now it's back to my normal blogging schedule. While I missed the blog and all of you, it was nice to disconnect for a little while. I barely checked email or anything. 
  2. Reading  I'm in the middle of three books at the moment. I haven't done that in a while. They all happen to be suspense novels too.
  3. Revising  I'm revising my adult suspense so it's ready for my editor in September. I really love this book, and each time I read it, I get ideas for how to make it better.
  4. After Loving You  I'm so close to having my Ashelyn Drake NA romance After Loving You ready for formatting. This book tugs on my heartstrings every time I read it.
  5. National Ice Cream Day  According to my planner, yesterday was National Ice Cream Day. I may have indulged in some myself. ;)
That's it for me. What's on your mind today?

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21. Writer Wednesday: A Little Perspective


Since I became a part of this crazy world that is book publishing, my goals and perspective have shifted several times. At first, I dreamed of book deals and best-seller lists. Then I learned that this industry is can be harsh. I'm not talking about bad reviews from readers. I'm talking about the industry itself. It's slow. Publishers go under or don't honor contracts, which leads to rights reversions. Agents can come and go as well.

I've been through a lot, and it's made me change my perspective. I no longer stalk my spreadsheet when my agent has one of my books on submission. It's not that I don't care. I definitely do. But I've come to the conclusion that not every book needs to be published traditionally. So if a good publisher wants my book, that's fantastic. If a book doesn't get picked up, I know it's not the end of the world. I'll hire a great editor and self-publish. If I have too much time between releases, I look at the books I have written, decide which would be better suited for self-publishing, and get that in the works so readers are continuing to get new books from me.

Being a hybrid author is freeing. I don't feel the stress I once did in this industry, and I'm much happier for it. Has your perspective changed after being in this industry for a while?

*If you have a question you'd like me to answer from the other side of the editor's desk, feel free to leave it in the comments and I'll schedule it for a future post.

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22. Interesting blog posts about writing – w/e July 22nd, 2016



Here’s my selection of interesting (and sometimes amusing) posts about writing from the last week:

Creating voice in the query (The Intern)
https://intheinbox.wordpress.com/2016/07/20/creating-voice-in-the-query/

Making Clichés Work for You (Janice Hardy)
http://blog.janicehardy.com/2011/10/you-spin-me-round-making-cliches-work.html

When in doubt, bury someone alive (Joe Moore)
https://killzoneblog.com/2016/07/when-in-doubt-bury-someone-alive.html

5 Ways to Develop Your Writer’s Voice (Jennifer Louden)
https://janefriedman.com/5-ways-develop-writers-voice/

10 Questions for Outlining a Scene smack-dab-in-the-middle (Marcia Thornton Jones)
http://blogspot.com/2016/06/marcias-10-questions-for-outlining.html

Saving the Sagging Middle (Clare Langly-Thorne)
https://killzoneblog.com/2016/07/saving-the-sagging-middle.html

4 Ways to Verify Your Story Concept Is Strong Enough (K. M. Weiland)
www.helpingwritersbecomeauthors.com/story-concept-2/

First Line Winners and Losers (Janet Kobobel Grant)
www.booksandsuch.com/blog/first-line-winners-losers/

So Your Self-Published Novel is Just Sitting There (James Scott Bell)
https://killzoneblog.com/2016/07/so-your-self-published-novel-is-just-sitting-there.html

Is Your Query Letter Ready (The Intern)
https://intheinbox.wordpress.com/2016/05/20/is-my-query-letter-ready-for-submission/
by way of Laurie Wallmark



If you found these useful, you may also like my personal selection of the most interesting blog posts from 2015, and last week’s list.


If you have a particular favorite among these, please let the author know (and me too, if you have time).  Also, if you've a link to a great post that isn't here, feel free to share.
 

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23. Monday Mishmash 7/25/16


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:
  1. My Laptop Works Again!  I'm jumping for joy because my laptop is finally working again. I ran a huge update and now everything is good. It took forever, but I'm happy. :)
  2. Proofing After Loving You  I'm doing the final proofing for After Loving You (Ashelyn Drake NA romance) before it goes off to the formatter.
  3. Fun Story! Last week the contractor who put in our new windows told me his wife asked what my first name was and when he told her she realized she recognized my name because she had read one of my books. How cool is that?
  4. Editing  My editing schedule is booked into next year already. Just wow!
  5. Updating My Website  I've been updating my website after a few people asked how to order signed copies of my books. There's now a store! I don't have payment buttons because shipping costs are different depending on where you live, but all my books are there with prices.
That's it for me. What's on your mind today?

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24. Writer Wednesday: Where Writers Ever Just Writers?


Lately I've been wondering if writers were ever just writers. Sure, I guess we could just write books, send them to our agent, who submits to publishers, and let the chips fall where they may while we write the next book. But would we really find success if we ignored all the other jobs writers have?

Today more than ever, writers have to be great at marketing. I'm talking getting your books out there by identifying who your fans are and making sure your book is seen by those fans. Everything from interacting on social media, joining Goodreads and FB groups, setting up book signings, creating teaser images, maintaining a website, blogging, offering free content... The list goes on and on. 

Sometimes I'm left wondering when I'm supposed to write. I'm getting one book ready for production and another ready for my editor, and what I noticed is that some parts of these books are foreign to me. I'm so far removed from when I drafted them that I don't remember writing certain parts. That's not necessarily a bad thing. Distance gives you perspective and can really help during the revision process. But I actually have to schedule writing time. Part of me finds that crazy. I used to just write. Nothing else. Now I'm writing, editing, marketing, and self-publishing. I feel like I wear a thousand hats each day.

So I'm wondering, was it always this way? Or has it gotten worse with time? What do you think?

*If you have a question you'd like me to answer from the other side of the editor's desk, feel free to leave it in the comments and I'll schedule it for a future post.

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25. Three Up-and-Coming Writers of Color to Watch Out For

New Visions Award sealThe New Visions Award, given annually by our Tu Books imprint, honors a middle grade or young adult novel for young readers by an author of color who has not previously published a novel for that age group. It was established to encourage new talent and to offer authors of color a chance to break into a tough and predominantly white market.

In addition to our New Visions Award Winner and Honor, this year there were three New Visions Award finalists: Alex Brown (Hate Crime), Hilda Burgos (The Castle of Kings), and Elizabeth Stephens (The Rougarou). Below, they share their writing experience, what inspires them, and what they hope readers will take away from their stories. We are thrilled to introduce readers to these talented writers and can’t wait to see how their careers take shape!

Could you tell us about your story?

Elizabeth Stephens headshotElizabeth Stephens: The Rougarou has been a work in progress for several years now. I drafted the first version of this manuscript my freshman year of college, though it has taken on a life of its own since! In particular, my study abroad experience in Paris, France in 2012 helped shape the details of this novel as did later work experience in Geneva, Switzerland. Whenever I reread my own book, it provides me with a sense of nostalgia – a straight shot of Paris. The infusion of Cajun folklore into the story, I adopted only very recently. I am a native French speaker because I grew up in West Africa and knew that I wanted my main character’s roots to be francophone. At the same time, I have been deeply interested in Louisiana culture since I was thirteen years old and first read Anne Rice’s Interview with the Vampire.

Hilda Burgos headshotHilda Burgos: The eleven year-old protagonist of my story, Ana Maria Reyes (Anamay), has a few things in common with me: she has three sisters, her parents are from the Dominican Republic, and she is growing up in the New York City neighborhood of Washington Heights. I first created Anamay about twenty years ago when I drafted a picture book manuscript about a six year-old girl who was nervous about the impending birth of a new sibling. Then I learned about a chapter book contest, and decided that Anamay’s story could be expanded to include the culture shock I experienced when I was ten years old and first visited the Dominican Republic.

Alex Brown Headshot Alex Brown: My mother immigrated to the US from the Philippines in the 1980s. She left an entire country behind in order to come here and be a nurse. The US has a long history of recruiting nurses from the Philippines, and from what I can tell, it started after the Spanish-American War, with the Pensionado Act of 1903 (wherein certain Filipino citizens came to the US to study). I took a little bit of what she experienced when she first arrived here, and built upon some of the obstacles she faced (including how incredibly badass she is for raising two kids as a single parent in a new country). I also drew from my own experiences growing up – the discord that happens between my main character and her parents when she chooses not to believe the legitimate folktales they tell her – reflects a lot of my feelings as a kid.

Is there anything in particular you hope readers take away from this story?

ES: I certainly hope that readers enjoy the elements of the story that I had most fun crafting: the romance between Chandelle and Reno, the setting in modern day Paris, and the fantastical elements reminiscent of Southern lore never forgotten.

HB: When I was a child there weren’t many books about kids like me: kids who lived in apartment buildings in a city, who spoke one language at home and another one in school, who had frizzy hair and dark complexions. I always looked for something familiar in the books I read. I hope that readers learn something new and expand their worlds when they read about Anamay, and that this knowledge helps them as they meet new people in their lives. I also hope that readers who share some of Anamay’s experiences find comfort in the familiarity of some of the scenes. Most importantly, I hope that readers enjoy the story and are inspired to read more and more books.

AB: I hope that people will start to think about the impact they can have on others. We live in this society where certain things – stereotypes, prejudices, hatred – are way more insidious than they have any right to be. But, with all of the bad, there’s still the possibility that anyone, anywhere, can stand up for what’s right. I’d also feel quite accomplished if people took a moment to pause and think about all of the obstacles and daily struggles that await anyone who immigrates to America. There’s something to be said about the unquantifiable amount of bravery, hope, and grit that it takes to leave one’s whole world behind, all to start a new life in an unfamiliar (and, at times, unfriendly) place.

Is there anything about your writing experience that you’d like to share?

ES: I wrote my first book at the age of eleven. It was a science fiction saga about a young girl picked up by a ragtag group of bandits and transported to other worlds. Since then, I’ve had the privilege of publishing several short works of horror in a number of online magazines and last year, I published my first fiction novel.

HB: I fell in love with language and literature when I first learned how to read.   A well-written book is a work of art. In college I majored in French and Spanish literatures, and I also took English literature and creative writing classes. I wrote stories for pleasure during college and law school, and I took my first class on writing for children after law school. I draw ideas from my life experiences and observations, from stories that I have heard, and from historical accounts and current events.

AB: When I first started to seriously consider writing, I was a co-winner of the Windy City Chapter of the Romance Writers of America’s Four Seasons YA award. A few months after that, I was one of the inaugural winners of SCBWI’s Emerging Voices award. The manuscript that received these cool distinctions was my second, and since then I’ve gone on to write several more, and have quite a few other ideas for new books!


Last year, books by authors of color comprised less than eleven percent of the total number of books published for young readers, according to the Cooperative Children’s Book Center at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. The annual New Visions Award is a step toward the day when all young readers can see themselves in books.

The New Visions Award is open for submissions through October 31, 2016! Please see the full submissions guidelines here.

If you’d like more news regarding the New Visions Award, author interviews, and more, sign up for our newsletter here.

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