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1. What Charlotte Did - Joan Lennon

I've just finished reading a wonderful blog by Penny Dolan over on The History Girls, about a series of connections that lead her from a randomly-chosen book from her shelves, right through a whole string of 19th century names, fictional characters and relationships, all linked by a wooden-legged chap called W.E. Henley.  Which made me think of Charlotte Bronte.  Recently, she's been my W.E. Henley. 




It started with a Facebook post - which sent me to the Harvard Library online site where they have been working on restoring the tiny books Charlotte and Branwell Bronte made when they were children - which led to my own History Girl post Tiny Bronte Books.  (Please, if you go to have a look, scroll down to the bottom and watch the Brontesaurus video - you won't regret it.)

I'm in the midst of editing an anthology of East Perthshire writers called Place Settings and was delighted to read in one of the entries the author's interest in the Brontes, and how "... every night, the sisters paraded round the table reading aloud from their day's writings."

Then I got involved in a project run by 26, the writers' collective, in which writers were paired with design studios taking part in this year's London Design Show, and asked to write a response to one of their objects.  I was given Dare Studio who were putting forward, among other lovely things, a new design - the Bronte Alcove.




The alcove is meant to be a private space within public places, blocking out the surrounding bustle and noise.  Which made me think of bonnets.  Which led me back to the internet, which led me, by way of images of hats, to the passage below, written by Elizabeth Gaskell on her visit to Charlotte at the parsonage:

I asked her whether she had ever taken opium, as the description given of its effects in Villette was so exactly like what I had experienced, - vivid and exaggerated presence of objects, of which the outlines were indistinct, or lost in golden mist, etc. She replied, that she had never, to her knowledge, taken a grain of it in any shape, but that she had followed the process she always adopted when she had to describe anything which had not fallen within her own experience; she had thought intently on it for many and many a night before falling to sleep, - wondering what it was like, or how it would be, - till at length, sometimes after the progress of her story had been arrested at this one point for weeks, she wakened up in the morning with all clear before her, as if she had in reality gone through the experience, and then could describe it, word for word, as it had happened. I cannot account for this psychologically; I only am sure that it was so, because she said it.

Which led me to wonder ... my own practice has always been to try not to think about work when I'm courting sleep.  And I have rarely, if ever walked round my table of an evening, reading aloud from my day's work.  But have I been losing out here?  Do you do as Charlotte did?  I would be most interested to know.

Meantime, I wait for the next popping up of my very own W.E. Henley.

Joan Lennon's website.
Joan Lennon's blog.

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2. Marketing Time: Using a 12-Point List


Good news: The end is nigh! Finally, finally my current WIP, The Abyssal Plain, is just a few pages away from being finished. It's a great feeling, tinged, I must add, with a little sadness. No more exciting adventures for my characters. No more characters! No more figuring out how to get them from A to B. And rather than designing their homes and wardrobes, it's time to move on to marketing. Ugh.

Marketing has never been my favorite part of writing. Query letters, synopses, pitching--they've all been pretty scary to me. I know how small the window is for attracting the attention of an editor or agent, and I know how easily they can delete or ignore whatever they receive.

So that's why I want to turn everything upside down. I want to enjoy marketing, and I want to create marketing materials that will be read. My two main goals are:
  1. That I feel relaxed about writing my query and synopses (in all their wonderful forms, e.g., 1-page, 2-page, 3-page--you know how it goes), and,
  2. That whatever I write be easy to read. After all, who has the time to pore over pages and pages of convoluted story telling when all anyone wants to know is:  what is the story about?
To that end I've come up with a new approach: Before I write a single letter or outline, I'm going to brainstorm three types of 12-point lists:
  1. An ABOUT MY STORY list. This list will include whatever is relevant to sales, e.g., genre, word count, why I wrote the story, who are my potential readers.
  2. A 12-point EVENTS THAT HAPPEN IN THE STORY list, in other words, the top 12 plot points and why they matter.
  3. A 12-point CHARACTER ATTRIBUTE LIST for each of my major players.
Once I have my lists completed, I can then decide what is truly important in each, and what I can put into a single document to be edited and narrowed down even further until I hit pay dirt. 

I’ve always liked listing things in groups of twelve, (something I wrote about in my Take Twelve blog post) finding it a good way to focus and brainstorm at the same time. Aiming for twelve points on any subject seems to help me go beyond the obvious without going overboard and including too much information. My hope is that using the technique for my marketing will turn what has previously been a dreaded task into a good experience I'll look forward to. Wish me luck!

Tip of the Day: What are the top 12 things you can say about your current WIP?  Listing the most important points could be a great way to not only sell your book, but to get it organized before you write it, too!

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3. Interesting blog posts about writing – w/e September 19th, 2014



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

Making Conference Connections (Rachel Kent)
www.booksandsuch.com/blog/making-conference-connections/

Case Study: When Your Concept Disappears (Larry Brooks)
http://storyfix.com/case-study-concept-disappears

Prewriting (Elizabeth Spann Craig)
http://elizabethspanncraig.com/2435/prewriting/

Be Diligent and Let Your Agent Do the Talking (Mary Keeley)
www.booksandsuch.com/blog/diligent-let-agent-talking/

The Seven Deadly Sins of Prologues (Kristen Lamb)
http://killzoneauthors.blogspot.com/2014/09/the-seven-deadly-sins-of-prologues.html

The Challenges of Writing a Sequel (Sttina Lindenblatt)
http://querytracker.blogspot.com/2014/09/the-challenges-of-writing-sequel.html

The Evolving Role of the Literary Agent (Jane Friedman)
http://janefriedman.com/2014/09/16/evolving-role-literary-agent/

Multiple Offers (Wendy Lawton)
www.booksandsuch.com/blog/multiple-offers/

Plot Your Novel With Mini Arcs (Janice Hardy)
http://blog.janicehardy.com/2014/09/plot-your-novel-with-mini-arcs.html

On Rejection and Renewal: A Note to Aspiring Novelists (Warren Adler)
http://writerunboxed.com/2014/09/14/on-rejection-and-renewal-a-note-to-aspiring-novelists/

Writers as Casualties of Commerce (James Scott Bell)
http://killzoneauthors.blogspot.com/2014/09/writers-as-casualties-of-commerce.html


If you found these useful, you may also like my personal selection of the most interesting blog posts from 2013, 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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4. Spicing Up Your Prose Part 4 of 6

This week, we continue to add to our collection of rhetorical devices.


Parallelism uses balance and three beats following a sentence or clause with a phrase that starts with a similar kind of word (adjective, adverb or noun).
         
 The book was damaged1, damaged beyond all hope of repair2. (balance)

Jane loved him more for it1, more than she loved her books2, more than she loved herself3. (3 beats)

Personification attributes an animal or inanimate object with human characteristics.
         
The book hid its secrets from her.

Phatics are used to begin or interrupt the flow of a sentence without adding meaning to it and act as speed bumps. They are used to strengthen the connection to the reader and can impart a confidential tone. It can raise or lower the dramatic potential of a clause, it can emphasize an important claim, certify content, or negate content. Be sure they are not used to preface an information dump. They include, but are not limited to:


  • after a fashion
  • after all
  • after all is said and done
  • almost inevitably
  • amazingly enough
  • and I agree that it is
  • and whatnot
  • as a matter of fact
  • as everybody knows
  • as I believe is the case
  • as is widely known
  • as it happens
  • as it turns out
  • as I’ve pointed out
  • as unlikely as it may seem
  • as we can see
  • as you can see
  • at any rate
  • believe it or not
  • curiously enough
  • fittingly enough
  • for God’s sake
  • for some reason
  • for that matter
  • hi
  • how are you
  • I am reminded
  • I can’t help but wonder
  • I might add
  • I suppose
  • if conditions are favorable
  • if I may call it that
  • if time permits
  • if truth be known
  • if you get right down to it
  • if you know what I mean
  • if you must know
  • in a way
  • in a sense
  • in my mind
  • in point of fact
  • in spite of everything
  • in the final analysis
  • it goes without saying
  • it is important to note
  • it is important to remember
  • it occurs to me
  • it seems to me
  • it turns out
  • just between us
  • just between you and me
  • let’s face it
  • let me tell you
  • make no mistake
  • my Lord
  • not to mention
  • of course
  • one might ask
  • or as unlikely as it may seem
  • shall we say
  • strangely enough
  • to a certain extent
  • to be honest
  • to my dismay
  • to everyone’s surprise
  • to no one’s surprise
  • to my relief
  • to my way of thinking
  • to some extent
  • what's up
  • we should remember
  • when all is said and done
  • you know
  • you know what



Next week, we will contine to stock your prose shelf.

For the complete list of spices and other revision layers, pick up a copy of: 



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5. From the copyeditor's desk

For the last 29 years, I have worked in the word business. I've been a staff editor at a diabetes center, a proofreader at a direct mail company, and I have done freelance work in every conceivable genre--magazines, newsletters, business communications, non-profit press releases, creative writing, poetry, web content, sports books, and more. Sometimes my work involves being mostly a writing coach, a cheerleader. Sometimes I have to tap into my inner mystic. Other times, it involves being a very nit-picky critic. Copyediting falls into the latter category. This is no time to be nice, just precise and thorough.

My current client is a copyediting project. And I thought I'd share with you some reasons we even care about seemingly stupid stuff like punctuation.

Let's look at exclamation points for now. Why do copyeditors always want to suck the life out of our writing by deleting exclamation points? Well, dear writer, because they are lazy writing and they make the reader feel like they're getting a sales pitch. How so? Time for an example. This one is a made-up piece of non-fiction:

In the 1950s, many women were frustrated by being expected to return to their more traditional roles as housewives, after having spent the war years immersed in the world of working to support our troops in the war effort! Some felt resentment and oppression! However, some were glad for the new, more technological home, complete with machines that washed dishes for them, vacuums that rid the home of nasty dirt in such a sanitary way, and machines that made light work of the stacks of laundry! 

(None of this is factually true to my knowledge. I did no research. Let's just pretend I did, though, and look only at the paragraph for the purposes of examining punctuation.)

There are merely three exclamation points in this piece. Which in my opinion is three too many. But let's look at how they create lazy writing. The author is expecting the reader to look at the exclamation point and bring a level of emotion to the writing that isn't present in the words. That's lazy writing, when you expect the reader to fill in emotion or something else that you, the author, are too lazy to put into words.

In addition, exclamation points are all the same, but the emotion or feeling the reader is expected to bring to each sentence is not. What does the exclamation point at the end of the first sentence want us to infer? Perhaps that women found working during the war exciting. Or perhaps that women were mad about this freedom to earn money of their own being taken away. Those are very different expressions, and the writer should use words to convey exactly what he/she means to say, not leave it up to the reader to figure it out. What about the sentence after that--is the reader supposed to feel horrified that women felt oppressed? Or excited? Or perhaps the author wants the reader to really feel the oppression along with the women in the piece. Who knows? The reader certainly doesn't. This is lazy writing, expecting the punctuation to do something it cannot do.

Now, I realize I might be preaching to the choir, but this is why copyeditors pay such close attention to these seemingly little things.

There's another component that is a little harder to nail down, and that is a reader feels manipulated by so many exclamation points. Especially in fiction, you as the author want to make the reader work for it a little bit. We want to throw in clues that help the reader anticipate where we're going with a thread. We want to let the reader ponder what a character will do to get herself out of this seemingly impossible situation. But we don't want to manipulate the reader--at least I don't like being manipulated as a reader. When I see an exclamation point, it feels to me like I'm reading a sales letter. Maybe that's from my days in direct marketing in which every other sentence has an exclamation point. And it's used on purpose to manipulate the reader in buying whatever you're selling.

Let's look at an example in fiction:

"That's great!" exclaimed Peter.

A short example, but it shows everything I need it to demonstrate. This is lazy writing in so many ways. First, it's pretty redundant to have an exclamation point and the word "exclaimed." Even more than that, it doesn't give the reader any satisfaction, any sensory experience to connect to, any way to relate to the character. How would this particular character express his emotions with his body? Maybe jump into the air and do a flip. Maybe pump his fist. Maybe it would be more subtle, like get teary eyed. Or maybe he is being saracastic, and he lets out a raspberry.

Another thing exclamation points can affect in a piece of writing is the tone and voice. Do you want your narrator to sound like a salesperson? (Or like a football highlights sportscast or a car commercial.) That's the effect of exclamation points. Of course, at times, maybe you do want a narrator or a character to come across this way, and that might be an appropriate time to use this particular punctuation. But use it purposefully for effect, not lazily because you aren't willing to work at your craft. If your exclamation point usage is aimed toward making the tone light and friendly, then look for ways to do that with your words rather than your punctuation. Use conversational language and structure. Don't use jargon and highly specialized vocabulary. Don't use formal punctuation like semi-colons and colons. Maybe use second person. These tactics will make your writing lighter without being lazy.

Copyeditors are not here to make your life miserable. We are here to make your writing  precise and to help you do what you are attempting to do in the most effective way possible.

by Neysa CM Jensen
Boise, Idaho

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6. Children’s Writing Workshop at Fairway Park a Big Success!

Today I conducted a simple writing workshop at Fairway Park in Miramar, FL. This was my fifth visit to the park’s after care program as a teaching artist. With the first group of 30 kids, ages 5-8, the children wrote 1-3 sentence stories entitled, “My Best Day Ever” and drew pictures to go along with their stories. Then they read them out loud to their peers. There were lots of spelling questions, and one impressive six-year-old boy seemed to know how to spell just about every word. Stories included themes about Disney trips, Christmas day presents, birthdays, family outings and getting good grades at school.

Kindergarten through second graders

This adorable five-year-old’s handwriting was perfect, as was his grammar and spelling for his birthday party Best Day Ever story.

 Sharing his artwork of a bus with superpowers with the group

Time to show off their hard work!

With the older group of 35 children, ages 9-13, the assignment was to write a letter to someone they know who has had a positive influence on them. First I read to the group a personal letter of thanks I wrote to my late grandfather as an example and so they were not the only ones pouring their hearts out.

I am happy to report that overwhelmingly the children wrote thank you letters to their parents and a few to teachers,- a few with impressive detail. Some were so incredibly thoughtful, I’m sure it will bring tears to the recipients’ eyes. It takes courage to stand up and read a personal letter to a large group of peers – especially at this age – and I’m proud of all who did!

Concentration!

Some lucky people will be receiving this kind, thoughtful letters!

A letter from a nine-year-old boy to his dad

What I learned today is that children want to be good writers. Some decided not to read their work out loud, and some others wanted me to read for them. All the children listened to the stories being read by their peers with respect. What surprised me most is that the children were excited to write by hand, although all printed and none used cursive.

The message I left with the children is, “Reading is the number one factor in determining your financial success in the future. The only way to become a good writer is to read a lot and practice writing a lot. Any worthwhile writing requires numerous revisions. No matter what career you choose down the road you’ll be a lot more successful if you are a good writer. Read what others have written and decide what you like – or don’t like – about it Then get inspired to write something amazing yourself.”

What a rewarding and fun day we all had. A big thank to Site Supervisor Randy Kaiser for inviting me back to visit today and to the dedicated teachers there who keep the children focused and learning. I look forward to another visit with Fairway kids!

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7. Need feedback: BITE SOMEBODY query letter

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Query letters are supposed to be catchy, succinct, and intriguing. They’re also a pain in the ass to write. As I prepare to sell my manuscript, Bite Somebody, I must first prepare a dreaded query letter. That’s where you come in.

Kindly read the following query letter and tell me if it a) makes you wanna read my book and b) flows and/or makes sense. If all goes well, maybe I’ll mention you in the Acknowledgments.

Bite Somebody Query Letter: First Draft

All Celia wanted was her first bite and a cute boyfriend.

She expected her life to change when she became a vampire, but she’s the same chubby, awkward Pretty Woman-loving girl she’s always been. Abandoned by her maker, the opportunity for change arrives in the form of Ian, her new neighbor at Florida’s Sleeping Gull Apartments.

Ian is a goofy ex-surfer who likes Jeopardy and, to her surprise, Celia. Despite the nagging of Imogene, her only vampire friend, Celia can’t get her fangs to go “boing” at the right time, and her first bite seems less and less attainable.

When Ian makes his romantic move, Danny, Celia’s jerk of a creator, returns for a favor. He wants to harvest Ian’s human blood, because Ian’s blood smells like Christmas wrapped in bacon and they could make a fortune. But the last thing Celia wants is her cute boyfriend dead.

Bite Somebody: A Bloodsucker’s Diary is a 75,000 word YA paranormal romance parody set at the beach, and nothing and nobody are what they seem.

My name is Sara Dobie Bauer. I’m a vampire enthusiast and fan of Christopher Moore and Gregory Maguire. I earned my creative writing degree from Ohio University and am the official book nerd at SheKnows.com. My short fiction has appeared in The Molotov Cocktail, Stoneslide Corrective, and Solarcide.

A full synopsis and manuscript are available upon request. Intelligent vampire fans who don’t take themselves at all seriously thank you.


5 Comments on Need feedback: BITE SOMEBODY query letter, last added: 9/19/2014
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8. How I found The Body in the Woods after a long search

TheBodyintheWoods high res cvrI got exciting news this week!  Scholastic has bought a bunch of copies of The Body in the Woods, the first in my new series. Girl, Stolen and The Girl Who Was Supposed to Die have been Scholastic bestsellers, so I'm hoping this book meets the same fate.

I got the idea in April 2012 when a friend told us her teen was a volunteer with Multnomah County Sheriff's Office Search and Rescue. Our local SAR does what all SARSs do—find people lost in the wilderness—but ours is unique in two respects. First, it is an all teen-led organization.  Adults can volunteer, but they can't be elected to leadership positions. Second, about 30% of what these teens do is search for evidence at crime scenes.  Evidence they have found has been credited with helping solve dozens of murders. The more I learned, the more I was sure I had found what I had long sought: a realistic hook for a teen mystery series.


The teen volunteers receive about 300 hours of training. They meet every Wednesday evening as well as go on weekend outings once a month. I have gone to trainings with them, most recently a unit on "man tracking," which is what they call it when you follow someone's tracks. It's a real art, and the only clue that someone might have been there can be as small as a broken twig or a few grains of sand on top of a leaf.  (I told folks at my kung fu school that I was learning to man track and another lady said, "Oh, don't worry, honey, I can set you up with somebody!")
SAR guy learning trackingSAR kids responding
SAR grid blackberriesSARS GroupHow to write about something you
Kids break SAR woods
don't know much about
I stared first where I always start: at the library.  I checked out books about Search and Rescue.  I even bought a few manuals (which were expensive, even if they weren't that much bigger than a book. I don't understand why textbooks and such always priced so much higher.)

I interviewed the girl who was a volunteer, and she showed me all the things you have to carry in your pack and on your person when you are called out for SAR.  After signing a criminal background check, I started going to meetings, including an orientation meeting, where I took notes and talked to people. But the best thing I did was to make the acquintance of Jake K., a guy in his early 20s who had volunteered for SAR since he was a teen. Like many SAR volunteers, SAR is Jake's passion. But he's also willing to answer a million questions by email.

And slowly I found my way to a story.  Actually I found my way to ideas for about a dozen stories, but i picked one and worked on that.

First up: the Body in the Woods
Alexis, Nick, and Ruby have very different backgrounds: Alexis has spent her life covering for her mom’s mental illness, Nick’s bravado hides his fear of not being good enough, and Ruby just wants to pursue her eccentric interests in a world that doesn’t understand her. When the three teens join Portland County Sheriff’s Search and Rescue, they are teamed up to search for a autistic man lost in the woods. What they find instead is a dead body. In a friendship that will be forged in danger, fear, and courage, the three team up to find the girl’s killer—before he can strike one of their own.

Next in the series: Blood Will Tell
This last weekend, I turned in the final draft of the next book in the series. The working title was Blood Will Tell.  The amazing thing is I think the publisher kept it.  I think the last time that happened was 10 years ago.

In Blood Will Tell, Nick, Alexis and Ruby are well on their way to being full-fledged members of Portland’s Search and Rescue—and to being friends. When a woman is found stabbed to death, their team is called out to search for evidence. Suspicion begins to fall on a guy who lives nearbyr, an awkward kid who collects knives, loves first-person shooter video games, and doodles violent scenes in his school notebooks: Nick Walker. As the evidence against their friend mounts, Alexis and Ruby must decide where their loyalties lie—even if it puts them in danger.


Awards and honors

  • A Junior Library Guild selection.

  • Kirkus: "A fast-moving and well-constructed mystery... A quick, thrilling read that doesn’t skimp on characterization."

  • Publishers Weekly: "The author’s expertise at plotting a murder mystery and knowledge of police procedure are evident."

  • School Library Journal: "A pervading sense of threat and danger."

  • VOYA: "Henry has created not only a gripping mystery, but rich and detailed characters as well."

Click here to read the first chapter
CHAPTER 1
TUESDAY
BLOOD
For Alexis Frost, Nick Walker, and Ruby McClure, it all started with a phone call and two texts. It ended with fear and courage, love and loathing, screaming and blood. Lots of blood.
*   *   *
When the classroom phone rang in American history, Alexis Frost straightened up and blinked, trying to will herself awake as the teacher answered it. She managed to yawn without opening her mouth, the cords stretching tight in her neck. Last night had been another hard one.

“Alexis?” Mrs. Fairchild turned toward her.

“Yes?” Her heart sped up. What was it this time? The possibilities were endless. None of them good.

“Could you come up here, please?”

Mrs. Fairchild was looking at Alexis as if she was seeing her in a new light. Had it finally happened, then, the thing she both feared and longed for? Had something happened to her mother?

*   *   *
Nick Walker’s thumbs were poised over the virtual keyboard of the phone he held on his lap. He was pretending to listen to Mr. Dill, his English teacher, while he was really texting Sasha Madigan, trying this angle and that to persuade her to study with him tonight. Which he hoped would mean lots of copying (on his part) and lots of kissing (on both their parts).

The phone vibrated in his hand. Mr. Dill was busy writing on the board, so Nick lifted it a little closer to his face. It wasn’t a reply from
Sasha but a message from his Portland Search and Rescue team leader.

Search in Forest Park. Missing man. Meet time 1500.

His first SAR call-out! He jumped to his feet.

“Nick?” Mr. Dill turned and looked at him over the top of his glasses. “What is it?” Mr. Dill had a lot of rules. He had already complained about Nick’s habit of drawing—only Mr. Dill called it doodling—in class.

Nick held up his phone while pointing at it with his other hand as if he had been hired to demonstrate it. “I’m with Portland Search and Rescue, and we’ve been mobilized to find a man missing in Forest Park. I have to leave now.”

“Um, okay,” Mr. Dill said uncertainly. Someone in Wilson High’s administration had had to sign off on Nick being allowed to join searches during the school day, but maybe the information hadn’t filtered down to his teachers.

No matter. Nick was already out the door.

He just hoped someone from class would tell Sasha. A text wouldn’t do it justice.

Nick Walker, called out on a lifesaving mission.

*   *   *
Ruby McClure felt her phone buzz in her jeans pocket. She waited until the end of chemistry to check it.

Fifteen hundred made so much more sense than three P.M. Ruby preferred military time. No questions about whether “nine” meant morning or night. No having to rely on context. No one getting hung up on whether 1200 had an A.M. or a P.M. after it, which was a ridiculous idea because A.M. meant “ante meridiem” and P.M. meant “post meridiem” and meridiem was Latin for “midday,” and twelve noon was midday itself.

It was 1357 now. Which meant she had an hour to get home, change into hiking clothes, pick up her SAR backpack, and meet the rest of the team at the Portland sheriff’s office.

Piece of cake.

Ruby pulled out the keys to her car as she walked to the office to sign herself out. On the way, her phone buzzed again. It was Nick, asking for a ride.

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9. Yes, No, Maybe? Decisions are the stuff of life.

Today, the 18th of September 2014, is the day Scotland goes to the polls to decide whether to become and independent country or to stay within the United Kingdom and much of the world is looking on.
Living and working in Scotland it would be difficult to ignore what is going on all around me and it is too important.  But this is not a blog about the Referendum, because votes are being cast as you read this, the decision is already being made and the outcome will be something we will all have to live, with whatever our own thoughts are.

Decisions are sometimes easy and at other times much more difficult so I wanted to look at the decisions we make as we write.

As I have said before, I am not a planner, so when I am starting to write a new book an idea pops into my head and I start to write about it, often with no idea what the story is or where it is going.
I need to try it out, run with it and see where it takes me.  It is a very exciting stage.

When I started writing Dead Boy Talking I was on a train coming back from visiting a school and with a notebook open in front of me I was thinking about what my next YA novel would be.

The title DEAD BOY TALKING was the first thing I wrote down, followed by the first line...

                       'In 25 minutes I will be dead.'


I had a picture in my head of a boy sitting on a pavement bleeding from a knife wound and it was cold, but most of all he was alone.
I was wondering how desperate that would be, how scared I would be if it was me. I started to write but it was his voice I could hear.

The first page of the book hardly changed from the words I scribbled in my notebook that day...

  'The knife slipped into my body a bright, sharp edge of death, a thief.  It sliced easily through leather, skin and flesh. Hot, red blood coating it's blade, warming the icy metal with a precious searing heat....  '

I was imagining how it might feel to be stabbed, scared and all alone.  But then I started wondering if the reader would be thinking that this was another book where the main character is dead before it starts. Almost without making a conscious decision,  the boy's voice intruded on my thoughts again. I feel it is instinctive at this stage and I try not to over-think it.

  'No, this is not some  dead person talking from the grave. It's just me, Josh, You know me.
  I'm not scared.
  I'm not!
  Who am I kidding?
  It can't really be happening to me, can it?'

There - I knew his name now!
But I still knew very little about Josh or why he was in that situation and what had happened to him that led to this.  Also one of the crucial things I didn't know was whether his statement about having 25 minutes to live was right or not. Would I have him alive or dead at the end of the book?

Many of the decisions are made as the story progresses and I get to know the characters better.  If I know them well enough I know how they would act in any situation and as long as I am true to their character the reader will find it credible.  But sometimes the decision is about whether the character will do something completely at odds with their normal behaviour.
That is a decision that often shows how multifaceted the character is. We are all complex human beings so if I decide he has to act contrary to his nature there has to be a strong driving force that leads him to do that, otherwise it will not be believable.

How often have you seen someone act in a way that surprises you? It just shows that we can never fully know another person but if they do act out of character there will be a reason behind it.

The decision about whether he would survive or not was a difficult one, it could go either way.  Much the same as in ordinary life, we cannot know if someone will survive a knife wound. In the end I went with my gut feeling about what was right for the story but somewhere in the back of my mind is always the reader, so whatever the outcome there has to be, in my  opinion, a sense of hope. They need to know that whatever happens, life will go on.


There were also other things to find out about Josh. What was his family like, who are his friends, what was the pivotal thing in his life that changed everything. In this case it was his older brother running away from home, and never coming back.  Josh's life changed that day because everyone around him was focussed on his brother, and he felt lost and betrayed but there was nothing he could do about any of it.

 A writer has to make many decisions as a story progresses but perhaps the most important are how it begins and how it ends.
If the beginning does not draw the reader in they might not bother reading on.  I always feel that when you get to the end of a book you should feel satisfied, like having had a good meal, not too much or too little but a sense that you have come to the end of a journey.

What decisions are you most aware of when you start writing?


------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Linda Strachan is the author of over 60 books for all ages from picture books to teenage novels and the writing handbook Writing For Children  

She has written 10 Hamish McHaggis books illustrated by Sally J. Collins who also illustrated Linda's retelling of Greyfriars Bobby

Linda's latest YA novel is Don't Judge Me  


Linda  is  Patron of Reading to Liberton High School, Edinburgh 

website:  www.lindastrachan.com
blog:  Bookwords 








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10. No, Freelance Writers, You DON’T Need a Blog

blogfaceSay you’re a new freelance writer. (Sound familiar?) You ask someone with more experience whether you should start a blog to help attract clients and let you use blog posts as clips.

Chances are, the other writer will tell you it’s absolutely, totally imperative that you have a blog. I even heard one freelance writer tell a poor newbie, “You only have a website? But that’s so STATIC!”

I’m here to tell you that if you’re asking whether you should start a blog, the answer is No.

And if you’re wondering what topic to start you blog on, the answer is that you shouldn’t.

If you start a blog, it need to be because you already have something you really, really want to say. Something you’re so passionate about that you can’t hold it back. Something that you can envision yourself writing about regularly for the indefinite future.

For example, Diana and I have written over 1,000 posts since 2006! That’s the kind of commitment you need. If you don’t feel inclined to write 1,000 posts on a particular topic, a blog may not be right for you.

Blogs are not an easy clip. If you start a blog, you will need to keep it updated, because nothing looks sadder to prospective clients than a blog that hasn’t been updated in six months.

Also, you’ll need to promote your blog if you want to get comments — so you don’t feel like you’re just writing to yourself all the time. Blogs are meant to be read.

And…what happens when you start getting some real published clips and no longer need the blog? Will you just let it die? Will all that work be for nothing?

It’s way easier to just start pitching clients based on your experience — for example, if you have a foodservice background you would pitch businesses in that industry — or to do a free assignment or two just to get the samples.

And don’t forget that your (static!) website works as a clip. If you have some kick-ass copy on there, prospects will be able to see you can write.

There is the issue that fresh content will push your website up in the search engine results, and blogs are of course perfect for that. But you can get a similar effect by updating your portfolio as you garner new clips.

If you have plans to monetize your blog and a topic you’re passionate about, go for it. And if you want to offer blogging as one of your services, you’ll want to show prospects that you can do that. But if you feel you need to blog just for the clip — there are better, easier ways to do that. Ways that won’t have you on the hook for the rest of your working career.

How about you: Have you wrestled with whether to start a blog? How did it end up? Or did you start a blog for the clips and later felt burdened with it? Let us know in the Comments below!

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11. Writer Wednesday:

I've been tagged by Vicki Leigh in the Meet My Character Blog Hop. Thanks, Vicki! So, today I'll be talking about the MC in Into the Fire. Well, one of them anyway. It's dual POV. Here we go!

1. What is the name of your character? Is he/she fictional or a historic person?
Cara Tillman is 100% fictional, though she feels completely real in my mind.

2. When and where is the story set?
The story is set in present day in a fictional town called Ashlan Falls.

3. What should we know about him/her?
Cara is a descendent of the mythical phoenix bird, and her first rebirth is only one month away.

4. What is the main conflict? What messes up his/her life?
Cara knows that when she's reborn, she's going to forget everyone from her first life. So when she imprints on the new guy in town, Logan, this spells disaster. It also makes her more of a target for Hunters, people who kill Phoenixes and steal their essence so they can live longer.

5. What is the personal goal of the character?
Cara is dying to find a way to hold on to her memories and Logan through her rebirth.

6. Is there a working title for this novel, and can we read more about it?
Into the Fire is a YA romantic fantasy. Here's the blurb:
In one month, seventeen-year-old Cara Tillman will die. But until then, she plans to enjoy every look, touch and kiss with her boyfriend Logan, the new boy in Ashlan Falls. Cara is a descendant of the mythical Phoenix bird, and her rebirth is nearing. But first, she must die and forget all that she knew before, including Logan's face, his laugh, and the way he says her name. With precious little time left for the two of them, Cara does all she can to savor every moment, unwittingly drawing a Phoenix hunter to her doorstep with every move.

7. When can we expect the book to be published?
Into the Fire was published on September 9th! You can grab your copy today on Amazon or B&N, and take the #IntotheFireChallenge for a chance to become a phoenix in the final book of the series.

Now I'm tagging Stephanie Faris and Medeia Sharif.

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12. Some Wise Words from Kirk Lynn

One of the most thought-provoking plays I've seen this year was Your Mother's Copy of the Kama Sutra, at Playwrights Horizons, by the playwright Kirk Lynn. The theatre distributed a printed Q&A with Mr. Lynn after the show, and I've kept it for several months because there's a lot in the following that really resonates with me about art and life:

Q: You recently started running the UT Austin Playwriting and Directing program. What’s your pedagogy? What’s required reading in your playwriting courses?
A: ... The most controversial thing about me as a teacher, which surprises me, is that I—trained by my wife, who’s a poet—have really come to believe in a catholic taste: you should like everything; you should read everything. And this ties back to the no-experts thing. If you see something and think it’s totally full of shit, then you probably haven’t studied it enough. And you should spend time in its presence. I say this sentence, which I borrow from this classical music scholar Charles Rosen, who’s now dead. He said, “Admirers are never wrong.” For example, I find Shaw to be really stuffy. But people who authentically like Shaw aren’t lying. They’re not idiots. They’re not wrong. And if I place myself in their proximity, I can learn to appreciate—you can learn to appreciate any kind of art. I say this to my students and, more than any other crazy shit I say, that’s the one where people just get outraged. They think the avant-garde is full of shit, or they think the Well-Made-Play is full of shit. They don’t want to task themselves with the possibility that they’re full of shit and they can learn something from all of these. 

When I was first dating my wife, I would wake up and she’d be sitting up in a chair, with a little light on, reading poetry constantly, every morning. I would always ask her, “What are you reading?” She would tell me, and I’d be like, “Do you like it? Is it good?” And she’d be like, “No.” And, just, the discipline of reading everything in the world because you’re an artist, and to be in conversation with it, seemed so radical to me. It has since become a practice of mine, to try and place myself—as much as I want to be in the company of plays that speak to me about my life—to put myself in the company of Shaw because I do not understand what he’s doing or why, and I need to stretch those muscles. 

If nothing else, it’s just a more interesting world to live in. 

I believe in this Wittgensteinian philosophy that words don’t correspond to meaning. There’s not a thing called “love” that actually corresponds to the word, there’s a kind of cloud of understanding that is different for each of us. So if I say I love you, you understand it as you understand love, but you don’t understand it as I understand it, and there’s a Venn diagram of how we sort of overlap in understanding. And if every word works like that, then making meaning together as humans is very complicated and we have to agree that there’s some leeway, that there’s not a right understanding of those things. That there’s not a right way to live, even. 

So you got a text from your wife last night after the preview, about how your daughter Olive has a crush—

—I don’t know if we should say his name! It’s Daniel.

We’ll just call him “D---.” And you were so excited about it. Can you talk about why?

Yeah, this’ll probably make me cry more than anything else. Some of it’s just longing, because I miss my daughter and it’s fun to know about her life. It’s also such a great mystery.  It’s interesting to have kids and realize that I’m not the central character in Olive’s life; Olive is the central character in her life. And [my son] Judah is the central character in his life. …I think there’s a little bit of fear in me that it will turn out that something like Christianity’s true, and I’ll become a crazy person who, like, wanders up and down the highway with a cross on my shoulder, shouting like, “Pleeeease repent.” Because if any of that is true, if what Christians believe is true, then everything you do is all wrong. There’s no sense in doing any of this. Making plays, being married. There’s just heaven and hell, and everyone’s fucking up really bad. I’m fucking up really bad. I don’t believe that’s true, thank goodness, but I do think placing yourself in service to people, there is a kind of—

You sort of make up for your narcissism by loving people. Does that make any sense? So knowing that my daughter is having this life, outside me, where she has her own friends at school, and she won’t tell me about any of them, and she has a crush at age three and a half, it just seems like a miracle. It seems like magic. And my job is to serve Olive so that she can have better and better crushes with crazier and crazier three-year-olds, and then four-year-olds, and then five-year-olds. That seems to me to be in the presence of the great mystery. It is insane that there’s a living being that I’m responsible for in some sense, and then that living being will jump ship and go off into the world and have the same experiences, both terribly traumatic and hard. And just the crushing sorrow and depression and, god forbid, addiction, anxiety, abuse, all those things. But then she’ll also have the experiences of friendship, and love—it’s insane. It’s a terrible system that we’re involved with! It seems poorly structured. My daughter’s life is this great thing that’s gonna unfold before me, and I get to watch it, and even participate a little bit. By recommending Daniel over, say, Ethan.


I think what I really appreciate and admire in this are Mr. Lynn's ideas that there is something to be learned from everything, even the things that don't resonate with you at all, about how art is made or how lives are lived. And how he decenters himself repeatedly, first from a universal absoluteness of meaning in language (meaning that all meanings would be dictated by him), and then from his daughter's life -- recognizing that she's her own person, doing her own thing, at age three, and finding that beautiful and sacred. To read the entire Q&A, click here.

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13. WordPressers Making a Splash

We might think of the end of summer as a slow news season. Not so for the authors and bloggers we feature today, who’ve been hard at work on some exciting projects recently.

Rebecca Hains

princess problemWriter, professor, and media scholar Rebecca Hains often shares thoughtful posts on her blog, especially on topics revolving around gender and discrimination. Earlier this month, she celebrated the release of The Princess Problem: Guiding Our Girls through the Princess-Obsessed Years (Sourcebooks), her most recent book. A critique of popular culture and the messages it sends to young girls, the book has already earned rave reviews, including from Brenda Chapman, writer and director of Disney’s Brave.

Broken Light: A Photography Collective

broken light

Danielle Hark founded Broken Light Collective, a community for photographers coping with mental health issues, more than two years ago. We’ve been following that project for a while (and mentioned it in a mental health-focused roundup earlier this year), so it was nice to see Danielle, and Broken Light Collective as a whole, receive the attention they deserve in a New York Times profile. It was published to coincide with the Collective‘s first group gallery show, which closed in New York in August.

Hungry Sofia

cuban table

Ana Sofía Peláez‘s site has showcased the colorful, mouthwatering delights of Caribbean cuisine for more than five years, mixing in great storytelling with beautiful food photography. Next month,  Ana Sofía will see her book, The Cuban Table: A Celebration of Food, Flavors, and History (St. Martin’s Press), hit bookstores (and kitchens) everywhere. A labor of love on which she collaborated with photographer Ellen Silverman, the book chronicles Cuban food cultures from Havana to Miami to New York.

Notches

Anyone interested in engaging, wide-ranging discussions on the history of sexuality will enjoy Notches, a blog that has tackled topics like Medieval love magic and the origins of “Born This Way” politics.

Jack the Ripper

Earlier this week, Notches editor Julia Laite, a lecturer at the University of London, wrote a thought-provoking article in The Guardian on another fascinating topic: our decades-long obsession with Jack the Ripper.

Ever Upward

ever upward

Justine Brooks Froelker, the blogger behind Ever Upward, has been chronicling her journey through infertility, loss, and acceptance in posts that are at once unflinching and moving. Now, Justine is preparing for the release of her book, also named Ever Upward, in early October (it’ll also be available on Amazon starting February). You can get a taste of Justine’s writing in this excerpt from the book’s opening chapter.

Are you publishing a book soon? Has your blog made the news? Leave us a comment — we’d love to know.


Filed under: Community, Press, Writing

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14. Kidlit Online Novel Writing Class

Crafting the Kidlit Novel ​- Four Week Online Class

starts October 6, 2014

kamicroppedOne Bite at a Time: How Writing a Novel is Like Eating a T-Rex and Other Things That Bite Back 

With Children’s Authors

Kami Kinard and Rebecca Petruck

The idea of writing an entire novel can be intimidating, but it doesn’t have to be when you learn how to move in stages. Children’s authors Kami Kinard and Rebecca Petruck break down the elements of solid novel writing, beginning with the hook and on through pitch, character development, plot structure, and practical tools for writing through to the end. Though the focus will be on middle grade and young adult writing, the tools are useful for anyone who wants to complete a publishable work.

rebeccaNaNoWriMos! This class will organize your approach so you launch into November with a plan that will result in a novel-like construction and not simply 50,000 words.

Bonus Critique: Register before September 20, 2014 and receive a free five-page critique and 20-minute Skype session with Kami Kinard, redeemable within six months of the course’s completion.

In addition, you will be entered to receive a free written critique of the first chapter of your novel (up to 5 pages) from Agent Rachael Orr of Prospect Agency. 

You have the option of registering for the four-week class for $250 or the class PLUS a 25 page critique with a 60 minute telephone or Skype conversation for $350.

Click this link to register and read more: http://www.kidlitwritingschool.com/crafting-the-kidlit-novel.html

Talk tomorrow,

Kathy


Filed under: authors and illustrators, How to, Middle Grade Novels, writing Tagged: Agent Rachel Orr, Crafting the Kidlit Novel ​, Kami Kinard, online writing class, Rebecca Petruck

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15. First Lines Make Lasting Impressions

by Sally Matheny

    
“My name is Sally.” Remember that famous first line? No?


     “My name is Ishmael.” How about that one? Even if you’ve never read Moby Dick, you probably are familiar with that first sentence. 

        




       Over the next two months, a class of teens will have my full attention as we indulge in the delicacies of creative writing. Today, the teens discussed the importance of grabbing readers’ attention in the first line or shortly thereafter.

        I read the first lines from several books to them. First, they told me the book they thought the line came from and second, they told me if it intrigued them enough to keep reading.


        See if you recognize what books hold these first lines:

1.   “There is no lake at Camp Green Lake.”

2.   “When I was in elementary school, I packed my suitcase and told my mother I was going to run away from home.”

3.   “The sun did not shine. It was too wet to play. So we sat in the house. All that cold, cold wet day.”

4.   “Grandchildren, you asked me about this medal of mine. There is much to be said about it.”

5.   “That Sam-I-am! That Sam-I-am! I do not like that Sam-I-am!

        Did you guess correctly? 1. Holes  2. My Side of the Mountain3. The Cat in the Hat 4. Code Talker 5. Green Eggs and Ham

Words quote by twowritingteachers
        
         This is a fun activity to do with children of any age. Just choose books of which they are familiar. I guarantee most teens will fondly remember those Dr. Seuss books even if it has been ten years since they last heard them read aloud.

        My son recently got into watching trivia game shows. He’s nine and almost all of the questions are out of his realm of comprehension. However, he loves the challenge aspect. Noticing this I now have greater results when I quiz him on school subjects if I do two things. I use my best game show announcer voice and use the words “challenge,” “advance to the next level,” and “you won!” If I cut out pictures of cars, dishwashers, and luggage to present as “prizes,” I wonder will he find that fun or cornball. It’s a fine line, you know.

     The first lines of a book can have a lasting impression. So too, adults have the potential to influence a young life, just by what they say to them:

first thing in the morning,

first thing after school,

first thing after not being successful.

     Make your first lines positive and they’ll definitely have a lasting effect.



Photo by JanusCastrane


(*And by the way, when I was a child, one of my favorite books is Try Again, Sally. I wonder why.)
       

        

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16. I Got Rhythm

In my career, I’ve worked a lot with rhyming picture book texts. Not on my agenting list, unfortunately, since the market for rhyming picture books was (and remains) tough. Of my dozen or so picture book author clients, most were author-illustrators who could bring a unique art voice and sense of balance between text and image, the rest were prose picture book writers, and only one worked exclusively in rhyme. Tough odds. The rhyming one did get a book deal during our work together (the absolutely charming GOODNIGHT, ARK by Laura Sassi, illustrated by Jane Chapman), but I heard over and over again from editors that rhyming was tough.

Well, let’s leave rhyming out of it and talk about rhyming’s black sheep sister for a minute: rhythm. If you want to write rhyming picture books, I would actually argue that rhythm, not rhyme, is king of the genre. Most people get so caught up in finding the right rhyme that their rhythm is all over the place and completely sinks the manuscript, almost before it gets started. Are you writing in rhyme and failing to count your syllables? Disaster lies in that direction.

The biggest mistake people writing rhyming PBs make is letting rhyme dictate story. Why does the dog have fleas? Because it has to eat cheese in order for the rhyme to work? Wrong. You’ve written yourself into a prison and you’re going to keep sacrificing the integrity of the story just to hit your rhymes. That’s not great.

The second biggest mistake, as you might be able to guess, is not paying attention to rhythm. If you aren’t yet familiar with syllable counts, iambs, trochees, and all the other trappings of verse, it may be worth your while to get a high school or college poetry textbook. That’s right. A textbook. Because there is stuff to learn about rhythm that was so intricate that you quicky repressed it in the 9th grade. People have been hammering away at poetry for centuries and centuries. Give their hard work at least a cursory nod and study the poetic form before you throw your hat in the ring.

You could have the most beautiful rhyme in the world but if the read-aloud factor isn’t there, and it’s pitted like a road after winter, with starts and stops, your rhyming picture book will go flat. And if you aren’t reading your work aloud as you compose or edit, especially for rhyming picture books, what, exactly, are you doing?! That is absolutely essential, because how it sounds in your head probably isn’t how it sounds out in the air.

Ideally you compose for content (story) and cadence (rhythm). Those two come first and foremost. Only when you master rhythm can you even think about incorporating rhyme.

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17. Begin Again

Many years ago I attended a writing conference and one of the authors recommended writing your entire story, then throwing it away and writing it again. The rationale was that writing the first time was to help you get to know the characters. Writing the second time was to finesse it and tease out your […]

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18. Interesting blog posts about writing – w/e September 12th, 2014



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

What is “Word of Mouth” in Today’s World? (Elizabeth Spann Craig)
http://elizabethspanncraig.com/2421/word-mouth-todays-world/

Heroes: A "Dive into Worldbuilding!" (Juliette Wade)
http://talktoyouniverse.blogspot.com/2014/09/heroes-dive-into-worldbuilding-hangout.html

8 Marketing Don'ts: Get Real or Get Lost! (S. R. Johannes)
http://blog.janicehardy.com/2014/09/8-marketing-donts-get-real-or-get-lost.html

What It Really Takes (Sarah Callender)
http://writerunboxed.com/2014/09/10/33237/

How and when to revise your manuscript (David Zelster)
http://blog.nathanbransford.com/2014/09/guest-post-and-giveaway-how-and-when-to.html

Why Children’s Books Can’t Be All Rainbows and Light (Kerry Gans)
http://authorchronicles.wordpress.com/2014/09/09/why-childrens-books-cant-be-all-rainbows-and-light/

Anatomy of a Showdown (Paul Anthony Shortt)
http://blog.janicehardy.com/2014/09/anatomy-of-showdown.html

Listening to Your Characters (P. J. Parrish)
http://killzoneauthors.blogspot.com/2014/09/listening-to-your-characters.html

What Is a Developmental Editor and What Can You Expect? (Katherine Pickett)
http://janefriedman.com/2014/09/08/developmental-editor/

On Stage: Talking about Writing (Sophie Masson)
http://writerunboxed.com/2014/09/08/on-stage-talking-about-writing/

Stop That Fighting! Conflicts Aren’t all About the Punches (Janice Hardy)
http://blog.janicehardy.com/2011/11/stop-that-fighting-conflicts-arent-all.html

If you found these useful, you may also like my personal selection of the most interesting blog posts from 2013, 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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19. How Teaching Makes You Better at DOING by Sudipta Bardhan-Quallen (plus a giveaway!)

by Sudipta Bardhan-Quallen

IMG_5422 (1)It’s back to school season here in New Jersey (or, outside Philadelphia, as I typically refer to it) and that means big changes in my household. All summer, my kids and I are bums. We hang out at the beach, at the pool, at the mall. We travel, we sleep in, we do nothing. Summer is heaven.

But come September, my children’s lives change. Gone are the no schedule, no stress days and in their place we have wake up alarms, agenda books, and deliverables (and, it seems, a LOT of laundry!). The kids aren’t the only ones who go back to school—as a children’s book author, the school year means that I go back to school as well.

Every year, between school visits, Skype visits, and events like Dot Day or World Read Aloud Day, I connect with about 100 different schools all around the world. Because I spend so much time with school kids, I end up doing quite a bit of teaching, especially teaching writing. Which happens to be a completely different skill than actually writing.

There is a very stupid expression that you sometimes hear people throw around: “Those who can, do. Those who can’t, teach.” I want to be very, very clear here: that is one of the dumbest things I’ve ever heard. Not only is it disparaging, inflammatory, and demeaning, it also has the distinction of being very WRONG. I definitely knew that before I personally started working with schools, but now that I teach on a regular basis, I can tell you that those who teach can do better than anyone else.

teach

It has to do with the nature of teaching. In order to teach someone a skill, you have to know it so well that you can explain every step, even the ones you do automatically or on muscle memory. Here’s an example: when I was in graduate school, I bought a brand new Mustang that I couldn’t drive. Because it was a stick shift and I only knew how to drive an automatic. So I had a friend try to teach me how to drive stick. We got in my car, I started it up, and I asked him what to do next. He said, “OK, now drive.” I looked at him blankly. “Just don’t stall the car,” he added. I had no idea what that meant. So he said, “Don’t ease off the clutch to quickly. Or too slowly!”

At that point, I threw him out of the car. He, to this day, doesn’t understand what had upset me.

He knew how to drive a manual, and things that I needed to know—how to properly come off the clutch when changing gears, how to tell when to shift up or down, etc.—were things he’d stopped thinking about. So he couldn’t teach me to do them because he hadn’t been thinking about all those little steps that you do to succeed that once you’re successful, you completely forget about.
(For the record, I can now totally drive a stick.)

When I started teaching writing, I struggled with this same thing. I thought to myself, How can I teach something that I just DO? Trust me, this was very difficult to figure out. But the more I did figure it out—the better I got at teaching others how to write—the better I actually got at writing. Just like my friend who failed at teaching me how to drive my Mustang because there were so many things he was doing on autopilot that he couldn’t explain, as writers, we do that same thing. When you get to a certain point in your writing journey, you don’t even think about certain things like how to conceptualize a complex character or add layers to your plot, you just do it. But if you try to teach someone else how you do what you do, you have to break down every action into baby steps so that you can show your students how to mimic your actions. This forces you to think through your methods, and in the process, refine them even more.

So even if you’re not at the point in your publishing career where you are teaching, I’d like to encourage you to think like a teacher to become a better writer. For example, instead of saying, “I’m going to create a charismatic main character,” I’d ask you to analyze what steps you’d take to do that, like:

  •  Start with something familiar
  •  Add some positive unique features
  • Give the character some flaws that make him or her relatable
  • Give him or her positive relationships (family, best friend, etc.) and negative relationships (nemesis, villain, etc.)
  • Temper every extreme (like “good” or “bad”) with something that brings it back a notch (like “good but hates kittens” or “bad but rescues kittens”)

The more you go through this process of treating your writing objectives like lesson plans, the deeper you’ll understand what you’ve done when something work—and what you may have left off inadvertently when something doesn’t work.

When you’re a good teacher, your students will benefit. When you yourself are your own student, your teaching skills make you so much better at doing.

Happy Back to School!

SudiptaParisSudipta is an award-winning author of over 40 books and the co-founder of both Kidlit Writing School and Kidlit Summer School. Her books include DUCK DUCK MOOSE, TYRANNOSAURUS WRECKS, ORANGUTANGLED, and over thirty more books that have been acclaimed by the Junior Library Guild, the California Reader’s Collection, the Bank Street Books Reading Committe, the Amelia Bloomer list, and many more. Find out more about her by visiting Sudipta.com or her blogs Nerdy Chicks Rule and Nerdy Chicks Write.

Sudipta’s new class: Picture Book A to Z’s: Plotting in Picture Books

The Picture Book A to Z series is designed to be a collection of master level classes that cover all of the fundamentals of picture book craft. While each class is complete on its own, taken together, the series will teach you everything you ever wanted to now about picture books- and a lot more!

The ability to craft a strong picture book plot is one of the factors that separates unpublished writers from those who consistently sign publishing contracts to see their work in print. This course will teach you the essentials of creating compelling plots, starting with Arcs, Beginnings, and Climaxes — then literally taking you through the alphabet. Each topic will be explored in depth, both in the lessons and in the discussion forums and webinars. The writing exercises that are a part of of the course are designed to help you apply the lessons to your own writing seamlessly and immediately. By the end of the course, you will never look at plotting the same way again! The first course in this series, Plotting in Picture Books, will begin on October 6, 2014.

Bonus Critique: Register for Plotting in Picture Books before September 20, 2014 and receive a free picture book manuscript review and 20-minute Skype session with Sudipta Bardhan-Quallen, redeemable within six months of the course’s completion.

Thanks, Sudipta! And now for the giveaway…either a 20-minute telephone/Skype PB critique with Sudipta or one of her signed books. The choice is yours. Just comment once below by September 16th to enter!


10 Comments on How Teaching Makes You Better at DOING by Sudipta Bardhan-Quallen (plus a giveaway!), last added: 9/8/2014
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20. Writing Multiple Points of View | Writing Tips

The main challenge in writing multiple points of view is helping the reader keep everybody sorted out.

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21. How Going to Military School = Writing a Book

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Guest Post by Joy N. Hensley

Joy N Hensley Author Photo

Jodi Meadows, my fifth-cousin-by-marriage, asked me to write this. “It should be funny,” she said. Apparently, she doesn’t remember reading Rites of Passage or the fact that I don’t/can’t do funny. Just like I can’t write poetry. (She’s a lot like my mom that way—see told you we’re related.)  Anyway, here goes. Remember: it’s not funny. Sorry/not sorry.

How Going to Military School = Writing a Book

  • Do it for yourself first—Military school is hard. It’s grueling. It’s like boot camp on crack because you add classes on top of everything else. If you’re doing it to prove something to yourself, then you’re more likely to succeed. If you’re doing it to impress someone else, it’s going to be hard to make it. There’s a lot of talk about trend in writing. What’s selling, what’s going to sell next. If you focus on that part, writing is going to be hard. Here’s the thing—the publishing industry moves slow. So by the time you’ve gone through writing, revising, subbing, selling…the trend is over. At its essence, writing is about telling a story. A story you can tell that no one else can. If you’re writing the story of your heart, then you’re more likely to succeed. If you’re writing toward a trend, it’s going to be hard to make it. 
  • Determination—Military school ain’t no walk in the park. You get yelled at, woken up insanely early, yelled at more, forced to do millions of push-ups and other forms of physical torture, and then yelled at again. In the case of Sam, the main character in Rites of Passage, you might also get bullied and hazed. But if you (like Sam) have heart and can remember why you’re there, you’ll make it through.  The same thing goes with writing. Writing a book from start to finish requires a certain amount of…chutzpah.  There will be pages and pages of words you write/love/delete/rewrite/revise, etc. There will be rejection, bad reviews, and days you want to stick your head in the sand. But if you have heart and can remember why you’re writing, you’ll make it through. 
  • Use critique but don’t sell your soul—When you’re marching/shooting/running an obstacle course, everyone seems to have a tip for doing it better/faster/more efficiently. The problem is, those tips work for them—they may not work for you. The tip-giver might be taller/faster/stronger/more daring than you. But think about what they said—don’t just toss it away. See if you can find something in there, however small, that might help. If you take what they give you and make it your own, you’re golden. Don’t feel bad if you don’t use it—this is your life.  It’s a lot the same with writing. Everyone reads your book with their own background knowledge. They may want your character to do one thing while you don’t think it fits. It took me a long time to realize I didn’t have to please everyone when I write. As long as I stay true to the story and make it as strong as I can, I’ll be happy. Every critique helps in some way. If you can take what critique partners give you and use it to strengthen your story, you’re golden. Don’t feel bad if you don’t use their suggestions—in the end, this is your story. 
  • It’s not you, it’s you ALL—In military school, it feels like a lot of attention is on you as an individual. To an extent, it is. One cadet out of step in a platoon is really obvious and looks pretty bad. But your platoon, your company, your battalion, when everyone works together and helps each other, it looks amazing. All you can do is your best and hope everyone else does their best, too. It’s the same way with books.  At some point your book is out of your hand. Other people get input—your editor, your design team, your publicist—everyone looks at the book from a different angle, checking that it’s in-step, that the uniform is polished and looking its best. The goal is the same, though: to put out the best possible book. All you can do is write the best book you can. Then you hope that everyone else does their best, too.

RitesofPassage Final Cover

Sam McKenna has never turned down a dare. And she’s not going to start with the last one her brother gave her before he died.

So Sam joins the first-ever class of girls at the prestigious Denmark Military Academy. She’s expecting push-ups and long runs, rope climbing and mud crawling. As a military brat, she can handle an obstacle course just as well as the boys. She’s even expecting the hostility she gets from some of the cadets who don’t think girls belong there. What she’s not expecting is her fiery attraction to her drill sergeant. But dating is strictly forbidden and Sam won’t risk her future, or the dare, on something so trivial . . . no matter how much she wants him.

As Sam struggles to prove herself, she discovers that some of the boys don’t just want her gone—they won’t rest until she gives up. When their petty threats turn to brutal hazing, bleeding into every corner of her life, she realizes they are not acting alone. A decades-old secret society is alive and active . . . and determined to force her out.

At any cost.

Now time’s running short. Sam must decide who she can trust . . . and choosing the wrong person could have deadly consequences.

RITES OF PASSAGE is available at bookstores and is also available at:

Indiebound, Books-A-Million, iBooks, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Book Depository.

If you want an autographed copy of RITES OF PASSAGE, please e-mail or call Anna-Lisa at my local independent bookstore: Books & Co….Toys, too! Let them know if you want it personalized. They’ll even gift-wrap it for you for free if you ask nicely!

E-mail: orders (at) booksandtoys (dot) us
Phone: (540) 463-4647

Joy N. Hensley is a former middle school teacher. She used to spend her twenty-minute lunch breaks hosting author Skype chats for her students. Once upon a time she went to a military school on a dare. She lives in Virginia with her husband and two children, finding as many ways as she can to never do another push-up again.

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22. 5 Lessons I Learned In the Decade It Took to Publish a Second Novel

BDAVIS14_medBY BRIDGETT M. DAVIS

Perhaps you’ve heard the one about a journalist who arrived at Joyce Carol Oates’ home to interview her? “I’m sorry,” said her assistant. “But she’s working on her new novel right now.” “That’s okay,” said the journalist. “I’ll wait.”

With over 40 novels written — averaging two a year — Oates makes us all look bad.

While there’s no average time for writing a novel, a decade certainly sounds like a long time. And it feels like it too. Throughout the nine years I worked on my latest novel, I worried that I’d never reach the finish line, and even if I did, readers would  no longer be there to cheer me on. I was convinced that when it came to publishing, slow and steady won no races.

What gave me hope was keeping in mind some great role models: Donna Tartt published her second and third novels eleven years apart. Loorie Moore spent fifteen years between novels; and my favorite example comes from one of my all-time favorite writers: Marilynne Robinson spent twenty-four years between her acclaimed first novel Housekeeping and her second novel, Gilead.

“Maybe it’s a question of discipline, maybe temperament, who knows? I wish I could have made myself do more,” said Robinson in a 2008 Paris Review interview. “I wouldn’t mind having written fifteen books.”

“Even if many of them were mediocre?” asked the interviewer.

“Well, no,” said Robinson.

Exactly. Once I accepted the fact that ultimately what matters most is writing the book I wanted to write — a book I would love to read — I calmed down and learned to respect my own, deliberate process. Following are some lessons I learned that helped me get there:

 

1)    It takes the time it takes.  A novel takes as long as it needs to take to say the things you need to say in the way you need to say them. Worrying about arbitrary deadlines does not influence the creative process. Nor should you be concerned about “timeliness” or literary trends, which are completely unpredictable elements. My novel is set in Detroit and Lagos, Nigeria — both are places in the news now. Who could’ve planned for that?

2)    Gifts from the Universe will appear: The longer you work on a novel, the more happenings in the world that can enhance your plot. For example, the Afro-beat musician Fela Kuti figures prominently in my novel. Just as I was writing a final draft, I learned that Fela had performed in Detroit in the exact year my story takes place, and that the long-lost “live” recording of that concert had just been released on CD. That information fit beautifully into my plot — a gift that would’ve been lost had I published the book sooner.

3)    The story gets to marinate. Fresh ideas and plot twists will come that only time and a deep familiarity with the material can bring. With more time you get to do more research, receive more feedback, do more revising, read more widely for inspiration. Most importantly, you get to let the work sit for a while. When you return to your story with fresh eyes, you can be more ambitious with its structure or themes. Here’s a line from my journal on the eve of my eighth year working on the novel: “It’s so me, this book. And yet it’s ambitious in a way it took me a long, slow way to be.” As all cooks know, marinades deepen flavor.

4)    You will not be forgotten. No one loves you less as a writer because your book is taking several years to finish; In fact, anticipation breeds excitement. On the eve of Into The Go-Slow’s publication, I am both awed and humbled by the many friends and strangers who’ve reached out to say, “I enjoyed your first book, and I can’t wait to read your new one!”

5)    Time breeds confidence. Because my new novel was so lovingly (and painstakingly!) crafted, I know who I am now as a writer. Here’s another quote from my journal in 2012: ” For the ninth-year anniversary of writing this story, do this: Don’t let up. Be relentless. Let your maturity show in the form of bravery on every page. Use all this living hence to imbue the work with wisdom.” The evolving years between novels have allowed me to become a fearless storyteller.

A final thought: Think of the long-term work spent on a novel as a personal playground in which you get to slowly work through concepts — themes and characters and POV and descriptions of place, and context. That kind of free play can yield wondrous surprises. Slow-burn writing is also a great way to learn how to balance personal-life demands and the desire to just write.

Know this: no time is ever wasted. Every year you spend on your work is another opportunity to document your creative journey, and grow as a writer. Now why would anyone impose a time limit on that?


Into_the_Go-SlowBridgett M. Davis is the author of Into The Go-Slow, released September 9, 2014 by Feminist Press, and the debut novel Shifting Through Neutral, a finalist for the 2005 Hurston/Wright Legacy Award.

Touted by Time Out as one of “10 New York Authors to Read Right Now,” Davis is Books Editor for Bold As Love Magazine, a black culture site; her work has appeared in The Washington Post, Essence, O, The Oprah Magazine, and TheRoot.com.

She is a professor at Baruch College, CIty University of New York, where she directs the Sidney Harman Writer-in-Residence Program. She is also curator for the Brooklyn reading series, Sundays @…..

For more information, visit bridgettdavis.com.

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23. Houston Area Writers’ Groups

Looking for a writing group in or around Houston? I don’t recall what made me start looking for these groups, but once I got started, I was amazed at how many organized writing groups there are in and around Houston. The groups listed here range from large organizations like SCBWI and The Writers’ Guild to small critique groups, and most of them  have writers of various genres. Many are open to new members, so if you see one in your area that looks like it might be a good fit for you, give them a holler.

Bay Area Writers League (BAWL)
Clear Lake Area Writers (CLAW)
CyFair Writers
Dawn Ireland’s Critique Group
Get Trapped In A Book Writers Group
Houston Science Fiction/Fantasy Writers
Houston Storytellers’ Guild
Houston Writers’ Group at Rice Village
Houston YA/MG Writers
Houston Writers’ Guild
Island Scribes
Monday Night Writers Houston
Mystery Writers of America
Northwest Houston Science Fiction/Fantasy Writers Workshop
Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI)
Texas Comic Creators Consortium
The Final Twist Writers
The Woodlands Writers Guild
The Write Stuff Houston
West Houston Writers Group
White Oak Writers
Write Inside the Loop
Writers and Storytellers Conroe Group
Writers of the Woodlands
Writers on the Storm, ACFW

Don’t quite fit with any of these groups? Grab a few friends and make your own! Name yourselves and get a blog. If you know of others (that have an internet presence) in or near Houston, let me know. I’ll revisit this page from time to time with updates.

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24. The 5 Attributes of a Successful Ghostwriter

Kelly HeadshotBY KELLY JAMES-ENGER

I’ve been writing about making money as a freelancer for well over a decade now. I have written five books, dozens of articles and hundreds of blog posts about the subject. I get many questions, and lately many of those have been about the field of ghostwriting. What is ghostwriting? How lucrative is it? How do I get started?

The fact is that any competent writer can ghostwrite as well—as long as you understand the additional responsibilities that come with ghosting. There’s a growing market for talented ghostwriters, so I encourage freelancers to consider whether their personality, background and experience make you a good fit for the field.

Your clients’ needs may vary, but I believe that successful ghostwriters must have the following attributes:

Confidence. Confidence is a key to ghostwriting success for several reasons. First, a confident ghost is more likely to get clients—when they trust in your abilities, they’re willing to hire you to write their book or blog post. Second, your confidence in yourself will make your job easier when it comes to creating a piece of writing that sprang not from your own ideas and brain, but from your client’s. Finally, you have to have enough confidence to recognize that you can write without a byline—and that any praise your piece, whether an article or book, receives will be directed to and accepted by your client—not you. If that idea makes you uncomfortable or resentful, ghosting isn’t for you.

Creativity. It’s a rare client who simply wants to dictate his thoughts and have me write them up for him. (And that’s not really ghostwriting, but transcribing.) A ghost does much more than that—she may be called on to conceptualize, organize, research, edit and rewrite. As a freelancer, you’ve no doubt come up with story ideas, organized articles or book chapters and come up with new approaches to subjects you’ve written about that before. You’ll use those same skills when you ghostwrite.

Flexibility. When you write your own piece, you do the research and writing. When you ghostwrite for a client, though, you may need information—whether written or in the form of phone, email, or in-person interviews—directly from that person. If he’s not available when you need him, you may have to push back a deadline or move forward on another part of the project that doesn’t require his immediate input. If you’re working per your client’s deadlines (and not, say, for a traditional publisher), then he may not feel the pressure to complete the project—which means you fall behind (and don’t get paid for your work). Understanding that when you ghost, you may at the whim of your client is key to ghosting.

Ability to organize. If you’re working on a short project, this is less important. But consider, for example, ghosting a book. That requires that you organize the information you receive from your client, research you perform on your own, different drafts of chapter, and other relevant information. I like to use manila folders for book projects, and set up a folder in Word to hold all of the various research and chapters; your methods may vary but the key is to manage information, drafts, and emails in a way that works for you.

Publishing knowledge. If you’re ghostwriting shorter pieces like articles and blog posts, this is not a great concern. However, if you’re going to ghostwrite books for clients, you should have some books under your belt already. If you have published your own books with traditional publishers, you have an understanding of the industry that will benefit your clients. And if you’ve self-published with a print-on-demand, or POD, company, that knowledge will help clients who choose the same option. Ghosts who have done both—traditionally published and self-published (whether in print, or with e-books, or both)—have a huge advantage over ghosts who are great writers but know little about publishing today. In my opinion, the more experience you have with books, the more valuable you are to a client, and the more potential you have as a ghostwriter.

Ask yourself honestly whether you have these five essential attributes. If the answer is yes, then consider adding ghosting to your freelance repertoire.


goodbye_bylinecovKelly James-Enger is a longtime freelancer and the author of more than a dozen books including  Goodbye Byline, Hello Big Bucks: Make Money Ghostwriting Books, Articles, Blogs and More, Second EditionSix-Figure Freelancing: The Writer’s Guide to Making More Money, Second Edition; and Dollars and Deadlines: Make Money Writing Articles for Print and Online Markets.

You can find more from Kelly James-Enger on Twitter (@ImprovisePress), Facebook (Improvise Press), and her website, improvisepress.com.

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25. Spicing Up Your Prose Part 3 of 6

Here are more delicious rhetorical devices to add to your prose spice shelf.



Epizeuxis repeats a word in a sentence or clause for emphasis.

It was a long, long night for them both.

Hyperbole uses deliberate exaggeration. It can be funny or sarcastic. Use it sparingly.

Jane was so tired she could have slept for a year, maybe four.

Hypophora is similar to a rhetorical question, only the question is answered. Often the base clause or sentence poses the question and the modifying phrases answer it. In dialogue, it can be provocative if the character asks the question then answers it for the other person.

Jane turned to Dick. "So you want to slay the ghost, by yourself? No, no, I get it. You're strong; I'm weak. You're fast; I'm slow. I'd just get in your way. Fine, see if I care."

Isocolon stresses corresponding words, phrases, or clauses of equal length and similar structure.

Never had Dick promised so much, to appease so many, to benefit so few.

Litotes is an understatement that denies the opposite of the word the reader expects. It can use no or not. It creates confusion.

Jane was not a little angry with Dick for leaving her.

Metaphors can add richness and texture if used wisely. Metaphors compare two different things without using like or as in sentences and paragraphs. Not every simile is a metaphor, but every metaphor implies a simile. Dead metaphors and similes are often cliché, so it's important to cut them or change them up when possible.  The biggest offender is the mixed metaphor in which the second proposition is inconsistent with the first.
                
Dick was able to shed some light on the text. (light = understanding)

Jane stared through the window at the black velvet sky. (sky = black velvet)

Oxymorons connect contradictory terms. You can find extensive lists on the internet. If you look for them, kill them whenever possible. They are hard to spot because they are so frequently used. Most readers won't recognize them as such.
A few examples include:

  • act naturally
  • active retirement
  • almost exactly
  • approximately equal
  • blind eye
  • born dead
  • clearly confused
  • controlled chaos
  • deafening silence
  • exact estimate
  • found missing
  • larger half
  • old news
  • open secret
  • original copy
  • seriously funny
  • unbiased opinion
  • virtual reality


Next week, we will contine adding spices to your prose shelf.

For the complete list of spices and other revision layers, pick up a copy of: 



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