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1. Shaping Voice and Tackling Heavy Themes in Children’s Stories

New Voices Award sealSummer is settling in and this month marks the halfway point of the submissions window for our New Voices Award, an annual writing contest for unpublished authors of color. If you’re an aspiring writer working to submit a children’s book manuscript, you’ve probably got the basic elements of your story (characters, setting, and plot) figured out already. You may even have most of the story written down. If so, kudos! But a story is more than words on a page. It’s the voice behind the words that drives the narrative and keeps the reader engaged.

Unsure of how to tackle this essential yet elusive story element? Fear not!

Last month we interviewed New Voices Award winner Sylvia Liu about her path to publication. In this next blog post, New Voices Award Winner Patricia Smith and New Voices Award Honor Hayan Charara share their experiences with shaping voice while tackling the difficult themes in their award-winning titles Janna and the Kings and The Three Lucys.

  1. What kind of writing did you do before entering the New Voices Award and how did that experience influence your story writing?

Patricia Smith: I’d been a professional journalist, but my primary mode of writing at the time was poetry. I think I became a poet after taking on some of my father’s storytelling skills. When he came up from Arkansas to Chicago during the Great Migration, he brought with him something I like to call “the tradition of the back porch.” Every day ended with a story from him that opened up new worlds, stretched the boundaries of my imagination and taught me that language was so much more than what I was learning, or not learning, in school.

But I don’t think my father’s stories inspired Janna as much as my father himself did. I was that little girl sitting in the barbershop, fascinated at all the magic found there, but it was my father–not my grandfather–who let me tag along with him every Saturday. I was an adult when my father died–and Janna was a way to explore that sense of loss, of the world not being the same. Also, although I’m a diehard sentimental, I never really knew my grandfather. So I wanted to explore that warmth that I imagined between a grandfather and grandchild.

Hayan Charara: I published my first poem when I was nineteen, so it’s been almost twenty-five years since I began writing poetry. Some of my poems tell stories, and all of them use a good deal of imagery to get across both meaning and feeling. Without storytelling and imagery, The Three Lucys simply couldn’t exist.

  1. What inspired you to write your story as a book for children?

    janna and the kings
    from Janna and the Kings

PS: I’m the dictionary definition of a daddy’s girl, so a few things were in play. I needed to express the singular and enduring type of love I felt for him. Although he was gone by the time the book was published, I was writing it for him–he died before he could see that I’d become a writer, which is something I promised him when I was very young. And I really wanted to capture that special time in a special place, the barbershop–a place that has been so pivotal, and so nurturing, in so many black communities.

HC: I first wrote about the events that take place in The Three Lucys a few years earlier in a poem originally titled, “Lucy”. I changed the poem’s title to “Animals,” and it appears in my new poetry book, Something Sinister. Generally speaking, I write poems, in part, to figure something out, either about myself, the people I know, or the world I live in. While I don’t always find an answer, I find that I have a better sense of these things than I did beforehand.

Despite the poem, I still had questions about the war, and most of them had to do with my little brother who lived through its events. Like Luli, he was six years old when the war broke out. I hadn’t yet thought very deeply about how he and other children might have experienced war and its aftermath.

I might not have tackled these questions with a children’s book if not for Naomi Shihab Nye, the poet and children’s book author. For years, Naomi had been urging me to write a children’s book, and for almost all of that time I didn’t feel ready to do so. Then, at a café in San Antonio, she handed me an announcement for the New Voices Award and said, simply, “You need to write a story for children.” This time, I felt ready.

  1. Did the voice for your story come naturally, or did you experiment with different points of view while writing?

 PS: Because I envisioned myself as Janna, and because my father’s voice is so clear in my head, the writing came easily. Actually, I had held on to the New Voices call for some time, moving the notice around and around on my desk. I work best when there’s an anvil swinging over my head, so I didn’t begin writing until I had no choice–a day or so before the deadline. I didn’t panic, because I knew the story so well.

HC: Before The Three Lucys, I had no practice writing children’s stories, and it had been years since I last read one. I went into writing the story very clumsily, not really knowing what I was doing or how it would turn out. Depending on who is asked, that’s either the most natural or unnatural way to write a story.

Though I wrote the story in one sitting, it took several revisions before I started to think of it as finished. All along, the voice remained relatively unchanged; the same goes for the points of view. What did change through each revision were the details and descriptions, the sort that would bring to life the experiences of the people in the story, as well as their deeper emotions.

For example, none of the early drafts brought out in a powerful and memorable way the moment that Luli realizes he will never again see one of the three Lucys. At best, the scene was nothing more than a description. I hadn’t gotten at how Luli felt.

I took months to arrive at an image that expressed the kind of sadness that comes with the loss of a loved one. Luli tells us, “My heart feels as heavy as an apple falling from a tree.” Sometimes, we get lucky and an image like that comes quick. Sometimes, it takes a long time, but I still feel lucky when it happens.

  1. Both Janna and the Kings and The Three Lucys discuss heavy themes. What challenges did you face when creating the right tone/ voice for your main character as they experience tragedy and cope with its effects? How did you overcome these challenges?
the three lucys
from The Three Lucys

PS: It didn’t feel like a challenge. I feel like I’m forever processing the loss of my father, and a lot of what I hoped the world will be without him is much like what the world turns out to be for Janna. I wanted to acknowledge his loss, but to have my life be full of him. I was writing from the perspective of a child, but the feelings were very much my own–an adult woman still suffering the loss of her best friend.

HC: The hardest part of writing this story was separating myself from it. I had all sorts of feelings, thoughts, and responses to the war itself, to war in general, and to the loss of a loved one. My mother died when I was a young man, for example, and that experience altered me forever.

I knew that I would be coming at this story with a lot of ideas and emotions already in place. On the one hand, this is a good thing because it meant that I was prepared to write the story. On the other hand, it was clear to me that I had to come at this story from a perspective very different from my own. After all, the story is about a child’s experience, not an adult’s, a fact I had to remind myself about often and be reminded about just as often by those who read drafts of the story.

  1. Finally, what advice would you give to new writers interested in tackling heavy themes in their stories for children?

PS: We constantly underestimate children. The world they live in is sporting sharper edges; and each day they adjust, their perspectives deepen, and they grow thicker skin. Children suspect these heavy stories even if we’re not ready to tell them. I think the key is remembering to revel in the myriad possibilities of language, to never downplay the role of imagination, and to always, always look for an unexpected entry point into the story. I don’t mean to sugarcoat–just write the story in a way you’ve never heard it. Your readers will be so enthralled by the way the story unfolds that its content becomes something more than just “that difficult topic.”

HC: When I wrote The Three Lucys, my wife and I didn’t have any children, only cats and dogs. You don’t have to explain anything to a cat or dog—you can, of course, and I think it’s a good thing if we talk to our animals. With cats and dogs, no matter what you say, they always listen. There’s practically no pressure at all to get it right. It’s really hard to screw up.

We’re parents now, to a four-year-old and a five-year-old. And I’ve realized that I am talking to them all the time about heavy themes, mainly because they bring them up. Every so often, one of them will ask me something like, “Will you die before me?” or “Can I live with you forever?” Or, even harder to answer, “What is the universe?”

When my boys ask me these kinds of questions, I feel like every one of them is an opportunity for me to say exactly the wrong thing. Obviously, these are also opportunities for growth and knowledge (for them as much as for me). When I talk to them about anything, not just heavy stuff, I try to do so honestly and in a way that doesn’t terrify or confuse them. I’ve also realized that, no matter how much I try to protect them, difficult and at times ugly realities will still make their way into their lives. This happens to all children, all the time. When it comes to helping children understand and get through difficulties, parents and teachers are usually the first-responders. And writers are often right there with them. We can be, at least. As a parent, I know that I often rely on writers—on children’s books—to help me out, not only with the heavy stuff, but the simple stuff, too. So I hope that more writers will tackle the big issues. It’ll make all our lives a little better.

Janna and the Kings by Patricia Smith is available now!

janna and the kings

The Three Lucys by Hayan Charara will be available September 2016!

the three lucys

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

 

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2. A. Fortis and TS Davis in Revisionland

To be honest, one or both of us is always ALWAYS in Revisionland in some form or another. And when we're lost in Revisionland I tend to go back and re-run old installments of Toon Thursday to cheer myself up. So, I have one of those for you, but lo... Read the rest of this post

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3. Tackling Titillating Taglines…

Tackle your Readers attention with a great Tagline!
You need to hit readers hard, blindside them with an awesome tagline in order to grab their attention. I cannot overestimate the importance of this. Your tagline, blurb and excerpt are the most important sales tools you have for your book. Choose them wisely.

Every author wants people to read their book, right? Well, they aren't going to find your book unless you put it out there and MAKE them want to read it. Throwing away your tagline and blurb is just like taking your book and throwing it off a bridge in the hopes that someone will fish it out of the ocean, find it, and think it's great. So let's go over developing a tagline that will make readers care enough to pick up your book and purchase it.

A tagline is—or should be—one of the simplest things to create. A tagline is—plain and simply—a one sentence summation of the theme of your book. Something quick and catchy. If you're moving on through publishing by attending conferences and conventions, a tagline is similar to what is called an elevator pitch. What you want to do is to catch a reader's—or an agent's or an editor's—attention with a one-sentence description.

Remember, a PITCH and a TAGLINE are two different things. A PITCH is to get someone to buy your book with the intent to publish it. A TAGLINE is to get someone anonymous, in a bookstore or online, to buy your book to READ it. So your tagline should be about your BOOK.

Here’s the tagline for the first book in my middle grade/young adult time travel series, The Last Timekeepers and the Arch of Atlantis:

“Children are the keys to our future. And now, children are the only hope for our past.”

Is it the best tagline ever? Nope, probably not. But it tells the reader exactly what the theme of the book is. Look at the points it covers—what it tells you about the book. What does that tagline cover?

Children. Keys. Future. Hope. Past.

That's the purpose of a tagline and how to make it work for you. Therefore—homework lesson number one. Sit down and READ your book. You may think you know what it's about, but if you're a writer like me—you don't. READ IT. As you read, jot down notes to yourself. One. Word. Notes. Hit the high points of your book. What themes, what high points do you think sell your book? No—even simpler: what tags or key words are IN your book? Because those are what will sell your book. Readers don't always know what they're looking for in something to read. Your tagline will give them clues.

A few examples of great taglines:

The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman – It takes a graveyard to raise a child.

The Maze Runner by James Dashner – Remember. Survive. Run.

Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson – Two lives are bridged – and nothing will be the same.

Do you see what all of these taglines have in common? They titillated enough readers to become bestsellers.
 
So that's your first job after your book is written. To sit down and read your book, and to pull a tagline from it. And this is where the elevator pitch and the tagline come together. In an elevator pitch, you've got maybe thirty seconds to gain the interest of an editor or an agent—just as long as it takes the elevator to get to their floor. With a reader, you have your book cover and one sentence—just one sentence—to convince them to click through and read more. You cannot afford to throw that chance away. So a tagline that's trite or vague or boring cannot be an option.

BTW – Here’s a sneak peek at the tagline for the next book in my time travel series, The Last Timekeepers and the Dark Secretset to be released on October 17th 2016:

“Only a true hero can shine the light in humanity’s darkest time.”

Hope I've done my job and piqued your interest! What are some of your favorite taglines? Cheers and thank you for your time and attention today!

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4. Interview: Kimberly Reid, author of PERFECT LIARS

kimberly reidSometimes to save the day, a good girl’s gotta be bad.

White Collar meets Oceans 11 in our new YA novel, Perfect Liars. We interviewed author Kimberly Reid on how to craft the perfect heist novel, her writing tips, and breaking stereotypes.

Why was it important to you to depict an interracial relationship in your story?

In the real world, interracial relationships exist. I’ve been in one with my Korean husband since college. Teen readers may not think this is a big deal, but when we met in the late 1980s, long before K-pop, K-dramas, and Korean fusion food trucks made the culture more accessible to Americans, it was kind of a big deal. Back then, as Koreans immigrated and settled into traditionally black neighborhoods of large cities, relations between our communities were tense. I wasn’t quite as young as the characters in Perfect Liars, but I remember what it was like to be young and in a relationship for which I had no model, one that was seen as “exotic” at best and flat-out wrong at worst. The world has shifted a lot in thirty years, and kids have more models now but it’s still important to me that my books reflect the real world. And unfortunately, we’re often reminded how little shift there has been. Just last week, people lost their minds over an interracial Old Navy ad.

What research did you do to create a convincing heist novel?

That aspect of the book probably took the least research since the heist isn’t a huge player in the story, though I had to do a lot of Googling on the high-end antiques business. I didn’t want the target of the thieves to be the usual things—money, jewelry, art—though that’s in there, too. So I decided to go with fine antiques. The legal aspects took up most of my research time. Luckily, I come from a law enforcement family so it was fairly easy to ask any question that popped into my head. When I was writing the book, my much younger sister had recently passed the bar exam and she’d also been an English major in undergrad, so she was the perfect person to help. The law was really fresh for her, and she didn’t get bored with all my writerly talk of plot and motivation.

Who are your favorite heist writers? What are some of your favorite heist movies or shows? pull quote 1

I don’t really have a favorite heist writer, but I have watched many heist movies, like The Italian Job and Ocean’s Eleven (the original and the newer versions), Rififi, The Score, and Inside Man. But it was actually a TV show called Leverage that gave me part of the inspiration for Perfect Liars. The main premise came from an alternative school in my town that is run by a juvie court judge and was once housed in our city’s justice center, along with courtrooms and the sheriff’s office. But I needed to turn that into a story and decided to have former juvie kids use their criminal skills for good. In Leverage, a band of criminals, led by a former investigator, use their various talents to help people in need.

How is writing fiction different than writing a memoir (No Place Safe)?

The biggest difference is telling the truth versus making stuff up. With fiction, you can make the story go the way you want. Writing memoir is all about the truth and sometimes the truth hurts. No Place Safe is the story of growing up during the two-year-long Atlanta Missing and Murdered Children investigation, on which my mother was a lead investigator. I was thirteen when the murders began, and I wrote the story from my thirteen-year-old’s perspective, but with the insight of an adult looking back on that time. It was my first published book, and writing it helped me figure out what I wanted to do from that point on. I like writing from a teen point of view (but I find it more difficult than writing for adults!). Though I write crime fiction, I prefer using humor in my stories rather than a darker voice. Most importantly, I’d much rather invent stories than tell the truth.

What advice would you give to writers that want to write heist novels?

In a heist novel, the entire book is about the planning and execution of a heist, and then how the characters deal with the fallout. There is some of that in Perfect Liars, but it isn’t really a heist novel. Publishers Weekly calls it “a socially conscious crime thriller” and I like that description. The heist more or less sets up the story; it isn’t the story. If I had to give it a subgenre, it’s probably more con artist than heist. But I’d give the same advice I’d give a writer of any genre: do your research. I do lots of research and still miss something every time. And your readers will call you on it every time. I can be a little Type A and used to think, “Oh, no! How did I miss that?” Now, I realize I can’t change the book once it is out in the world, so I view it as, “I have some really smart and observant readers. They’ll keep me on my toes as I research the next book.”

A few months ago, LEE & LOW released the Diversity Baseline Survey, which revealed that a significant percentage of publishing staff is comprised of white women. Were you shocked by these numbers? What is a way publishing might be able to improve these numbers?

pull quote 2I’ve been black all my life, and a traditionally published writer for nearly a decade, so no, I wasn’t surprised. More surprising—and heartening—was the response to the survey from the participants. I was glad to see Big Five publishers participate. As sad as the numbers are, I think being truthful about them and willing to contribute honest data is a good start. As far as improving the numbers, I think decision-makers need to make an aggressive effort to recruit diverse employees. I don’t mean run job ads on sites focused on minorities or maybe participate in diversity job fairs for new college grads. I mean start early, show marginalized high school students the possibility of publishing as a career through education and internships. The science disciplines are doing this through STEM program education and recruitment as early as middle school. Another suggestion is to let go of the idea that everyone must work in Manhattan, which puts a publishing career out of economic reach for most. The film industry has figured that out. While Hollywood may always be the headquarters, lots of movies are being made in studios in lower cost cities like Atlanta and Vancouver, and using local production talent. Maybe have self-contained imprints, from acquisitions to sales reps, as field offices. I think this would also help publishing become less New York-centric and keep publishers in closer touch with what’s going on in the rest of the country in terms of demographics, cultural trends, and social movements. And to loop back to my first suggestion, publishing needs more decision-makers from marginalized backgrounds. It’s hard to acknowledge there’s a problem when you’ve never experienced the problem, and you can’t fix what you don’t perceive as broken, or at least, fully understand how broken the thing is.

Many of the juvenile delinquents that Drea works with challenge her assumptions about what they are truly like. Why is it important to challenge Drea’s (and the reader’s) assumptions about these characters?

I won’t lie—I can be judgey. A big part of being a writer is watching the world and trying to understand people, and hopefully, attempting to empathize with some of what we see. It’s hard to do that if you aren’t willing to see there’s more than one perspective. So I brought a lot of that to Drea’s character. I also wanted to show that we are not monolithic. Of the relatively few books that are published with brown or black leads, the odds favor us being depicted as broke, oppressed, undereducated, and in need of salvation. Drea is the opposite of these things despite being a racial minority. And also despite that, she views the world from a place of privilege. Part of her evolution is seeing that she has obtained her privilege in a questionable way, and also that, when it comes down to it, some people will always see her the way they want, no matter her money, class, or education. She learns this by seeing how others like her are treated and eventually realizes she has the means to help correct some of that.

The push for more diverse books has increased in the past two years. What do you hope to see from forthcoming books?

I’d like to see more fun books with racially marginalized characters. While these things are huge aspects of our past and, unfortunately, what still lies ahead, we aren’t always trying to throw off the yoke of oppression, dealing with the legacy of slavery or the marginalization that comes with being immigrants. Books from white writers with white leads don’t carry this burden. They can be fun for entertainment’s sake, and that’s just fine. Historically, publishing hasn’t given the same freedom to writers of color. We have had to come with the deep and profound, or not come at all. Kids of color should have a variety to choose from, should be able to walk into a library or store and pick the thing they’re dying to read, not the thing an adult (publishers, teachers, librarians, parents) has deemed they should read because of what they look like or where they came from. That choice can include a history of their people, but let them also have a fun mystery, an interracial romance, a fantasy in which a kid who looks like them is the slayer of dragons. Every young reader deserves that.

What’s one of your favorite sentences, either from your own writing or from someone else’s?

Can I give a few? I love this description of a season’s change from Toni Morrison’s Sula:

“Then summer came. A summer limp with the weight of blossomed things. Heavy sunflowers weeping over fences; iris curling and browning at the edges far away from their purple hearts; ears of corn letting their auburn hair wind down to their stalks. And the boys. The beautiful, beautiful boys who dotted the landscape like jewels, split the air with their shouts in the field, and thickened the river with their shining wet backs. Even their footsteps left a smell of smoke behind.”

I bow to Ms. Morrison.

If you were putting together your own team to pull off a heist, who would be on it and why?

I’d need a computer genius. I once worked in the tech world—which is increasingly becoming the world—and computer geeks make it go round. I’d want a great con artists or two because I wouldn’t want to use brute force. If I’m going to be a criminal, I’d rather manipulate people into giving me what I want rather than physically hurting them into doing it. They’re both bad, but for some reason, the con seems less bad than the violence. Certainly I’d want someone who could break into anything, probably two thieves—one high tech, one old school because you never know if you’re going to run into an antique safe or something. Those would be the minimal requirements. Nice-to-have additions would be a chemist, physicist, and an engineer. They are like the MacGyvers of the world. Between them, when all else fails, they could probably figure a way out of any jam.

Perfect Liars releases next week!

perfect liars cover

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5. #DVpit: A Twitter Pitching Event for Marginalized Authors

While the number of diverse books is increasing, the number of new diverse authors entering the field remains low. Significant barriers remain for authors of color, Native authors, disabled authors, and other marginalized voices. With that in mind, we are excited to share information on this special Twitter event, #DVpit, created to showcase pitches by marginalized voices and help connect them to agents and editors. The information below is cross-posted with permission from literary agent Beth Phelan’s website.   

#DVpit

A Twitter Pitching Event, Hosted + Moderated by Beth Phelan

April 19, 2016
8:00AM EST – 8:00PM EST

#DVpit

What is #DVpit?


#DVpit is a Twitter event created to showcase pitches about and especially by marginalized voices. This includes (but is not limited to): Native peoples and people of color; people living and/or born/raised in underrepresented cultures and countries; disabled persons; people with illness; people on marginalized ends of the socioeconomic, cultural and/or religious spectrum; people identifying as LGBTQIA+; and more.


What kind of work can you submit?


The participating agents and editors are looking for a variety of work, including all categories of fiction for adults, teens, and children, as well as nonfiction—as long as they qualify per the paragraph above.

Please only pitch your completed, unpublished manuscripts.


How do you submit?


Your pitch must fit the 140-character max, and must also include the hashtag #DVpit.

Please try to include category and/or genre hashtags in your pitch.

We will trust that your pitch is for a diverse book, but if you want a quick way to make the diversity in your work more apparent in your short pitch (and you can fit a few more characters), I also encourage you to include an abbreviation as an easier way to get that information across. Examples: OWN (to suggest #ownvoices), POC, LGBT, DIS (disability), IMM (immigration), etc.

These codes are up to you—I’m in no place to judge or police how, or even if, you box your experience. If you’ve already perfected your pitch and/or simply don’t see the value in including these codes, please remember they are optional. You will *not* be at a disadvantage if you don’t include them! If you do want to add, please make the abbreviation as clear and straightforward as possible for our agents/editors.

Please pitch no more than once per hour, per manuscript. You may use the same pitch, or shake things up by using different pitches for the same project. You may pitch more than one project at a time, as long as they are completed and unpublished.

Please do not tweet the agents/editors directly!

The event will run from 8:00AM EST until 8:00PM EST, so please only tweet your pitches during that block of time.


What happens next?


Agents/editors will your “like” your pitch tweet if they’d like to see material from you, so please don’t “like” other authors’ pitches. Please also do not retweet. To show support, you can always reply with compliments.

Each agent/editor will have their own preferences for receiving submissions, so if you get a “like” from someone, please refer to their Twitter feed to see what they ask for, and how you can contact them.

All of these agents/editors are invested in finding more marginalized voices, so if you’re comfortable with it (and ONLY if you are comfortable with it), you are encouraged you to self-identify in your query, or just simply let us know that the story and/or character(s) reflect your own experience (or even in your pitch if you have the space and the inclination).

If you see that multiple agents/editors from the same group have “liked” your pitch, please contact them directly for their policy, or reach out to Beth Phelan who can help you find out.

Keep in mind that many agents/editors will get sidetracked with their usual work or unexpected crises and may have to revisit the feed after the event is over. So don’t be surprised if you receive “likes” after the period closes!


Who is participating?


Over 50 agents and editors will be participating, and since this is a public event, more are likely to join in on the day! Our own Stacy Whitman, publisher of our Tu Books imprint, will be participating. See the full list here.

Please be sure to research any agent or publisher that “likes” your pitch. There is no obligation to submit your work to anyone you don’t want to.


For more details and a list of resources to help with your pitch, visit Beth Phelan’s post. Best of luck and happy pitching!

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6. Toon Thursday: The Writing Guru Returns!

I am seriously chuffed that I have managed two new cartoons in the past month. I hope this marks the beginning of a new Toon Thursday resurgence, and a bit of momentum to get my cartoon Tumblr going. This one's pretty silly. Here you go. This work... Read the rest of this post

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7. Toon Thursday: LOOK IT'S A NEW CARTOON!

Hey kids! Are you writing a mystery or thriller but just can't seem to decide WHO, in fact, DUN IT? Well, fret no more, because Toon Thursday has a brand-new addition to the Writer's Toolkit JUST FOR YOU. Just spin the wheel, and you can blame it... Read the rest of this post

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8. The Secret Ingredient for Writing Better Characters

Laurenne Sala began her career as an advertising copywriter, writing national campaigns for clients like KIA Motors, Jack-in-the-Box, and Beats by Dre.

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9. Monday Inspiration: The Wise Natalie Goldberg

Photo taken by me, this past fall, at West Head, Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park, near Sydney, Australia. Quotation is from the always inspirational book Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg, a must-have for your bookshelf of writing... Read the rest of this post

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10. Getting author inspiration from Pinterest

My kids thought it was weird when they found out I was on Pinterest. But I've found it to be an invaluable tool as an author. I have boards with lesson plans that have book tie-ins. Boards about my books. Boards with book trailers. Boards with kid activities that deal with dragons, monsters and cows. And then some miscellaneous boards on other things I like.

But the board I'm lately getting the most use out of contains a variety of images that give me insight, inspiration, and ideas for the current middle grade fantasy I'm working on. If I'm trying to figure out how to describe aspects of a rainforest, I look on my board or search for other rainforest pins. If I need insight into clothes, armor and even hats worn in ancient China, I look on my board or look for more pins to add. If I need help with wildlife or plants, I turn to my board. If I need to refresh certain ideas or get new ones, my board helps me. If it's not on my board, I find other pins that might help. And when I need new inspiration, it's always waiting there for me on my board.

I also think it might be fun for others to look at my board, to just wonder and imagine what in the world this book I'm working on is going to be about. If you're curious, check it out.

https://www.pinterest.com/kenbakerbooks/inspiration-for-current-wip/

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11. Writers and Boundaries…

My Writing Womb
Actor/writer John Cleese once said to an audience that in order to be creative, two things must occur: you need to create boundaries, and make time. That’s it. Even if you write or paint or woodwork for one hour, you MUST shut yourself in a space, and let no one in for one hour. Writers would sure benefit from wearing a turtle’s shell so we could withdraw from the world any time we wanted! LOL!

Early mornings are a popular working time for many writers and artists, for a few obvious reasons. If you get up early enough, you can generally count on being free from visitors, phone calls, and other interruptions. And if you go straight to work on your creative project—if you literally put it first in your day—you can guarantee that your working time won’t be derailed by other commitments or temptations.

So how do you acquire that coveted time to write? This has been an ongoing obstacle for many writers, including yours truly. Especially when life gets messy. And trust me, it does! I guess the best advice that I can give is that you need to make sacrifices. Instead of watching three TV shows with your better half, cut back one or two (pick your favorite to watch), then scurry to your writing lair and put your fingers to the keyboard. Lock yourself in your room. Tell your family members that once the door is closed for the set amount of time you’ve chosen, you’re not available. Period. Even if someone screams bloody murder. If you need to, buy earphones, download a music app, and plug in. This will help to keep those distractions out and the words flowing.

Another option is GET OUT of the house and go to your local coffee shop or library. Many authors have chosen this avenue with great success. Libraries have more confining hours, but most coffee shops are open 24 hours. The idea is to create both time and space for yourself to write. Plus, you’ve got fresh coffee or tea on demand, so that’s a bonus!

A more expensive idea if you can swing it is to rent a motel or hotel room for a personal writing retreat. You might be able to get a good deal during off-season periods, or even use those air miles you’ve been saving to cash in on a room. What about using a friend’s home or apartment a few times a week? The possibilities are available, but we have to utilize them.

This upcoming year, I need to make some sacrifices and define my space (physical and emotional) in order to finish writing the next installment of my time travel series (so close!), and start brainstorming the next book. I’m lucky enough to have my own writing office, and there’s no little ones around to knock on the door. Unless my 100 pound yellow Labrador decides to nudge open the door to be fed or walked! I’ve used a timer in the past, but like anything, if it’s not made a habit, it’s not going to work. Self-discipline is the name of the game in this business, that’s for sure! So keep a stiff upper lip, define your writing space and time, and get that book written!

How do you define your boundaries as a writer? Where are some great places you like to write? Do you allow yourself a certain amount of time to write? Would love to read your comments! Cheers and thank you for reading my blog!

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12. To Another Year of Reading and Writing

From Writers on Writing, Volume II This work is copyrighted material. All opinions are those of the writer, unless otherwise indicated. All book reviews are UNSOLICITED, and no money has exchanged hands, unless otherwise indicated. Please contact... Read the rest of this post

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13. Over a century of great judicial writing [infographic]

Over the last century, many judges have paved the way for great judicial writing. In Point Taken: How to Write Like the World’s Best Judges, author Ross Guberman examines the cases and opinions of 34 acclaimed judges, focusing on their use of figurative language, vivid examples, grammar, and other writing techniques.

The post Over a century of great judicial writing [infographic] appeared first on OUPblog.

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14. How to write a letter of recommendation

It’s that time of the year again. Seniors are thinking ahead about their impending futures (a job, grad school, the Peace Corps). Former students are advancing in their careers. Colleagues and co-workers are engaging in year-end reflection and considering new positions.

The post How to write a letter of recommendation appeared first on OUPblog.

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15. Notes from the Critique Group - The Gap

by Maureen Lynas

This was a very interesting discussion at the SCBWI BI York critique group involving:
THE GAP
The space that's left for the reader when we SHOW rather than TELL

Leaving THE GAP gives the reader a role to play in the story as they infer and interpret the text. There's a balance to be had between showing and telling depending on the genre, age group, and experience of the reader.

If a book is set in a familiar world to the readership then THE GAP can be quite large. The reader fills it with their knowledge, life experiences, cultural history, emotional history etc. The author can then play with the reader's inferences and expectations. If the book is an unfamiliar world then - the author has to try harder to familiarise the reader with the world and may need to leave a smaller GAP. Without resorting to information dumps.

What are these worlds?
This is what I've come up with so far. Please do add more in the comments.
The book samples below are taken from a western readers POV but I'd love to see a similar post with book choices from another cultural POV e.g. which children's books reflect the normal world for a reader in India and how big would THE GAP be for the western reader. 

The normal world young readers live in:
Often school based. The readers are familiar with school, teachers, family, friendships, bullies, emotions.
Diary of a Wimpy Kid by Jeff Kinney.
Most books by Jacqueline Wilson.
Mariella Mystery by Kate Pankhurst.
Chocolate Box Girls by Cathy Cassidy.
The World of Norm by Jonathan Meres.

The world young readers live in plus…
Often still school based but includes some sort of magical or fantasy element. The readers are familiar with school, family, friendships, bullies, emotions, this type of magic, good v evil, destiny, prophecies etc
Harry Potter by J K Rowling - school plus magic.
Matilda by Roald Dahl - school plus magic.
Diary of a 6th Grade Ninja by Marcus Emerson - school plus ninja.
Spies in Disguise by Kate Scott - school plus spies.

Readers are bringing an awful lot to THE GAP in the above worlds.  They're really dealing with a familiar unfamiliar world. But what about the next lot.
There are lots of examples of the above that I'm very familiar with. I'm not so familiar with the types below. So please do add extra titles in the comments.

A contemporary culturally unfamiliar world.
Shine by Candy Gourlay.

An historically unfamiliar world.
Which may also be based in a culturally unfamiliar world.
Buffalo Soldiers by Tanya Landman.

An alternative historical world of unfamiliarity 
Twisting history but history is unfamiliar to children anyway. So would they know? 
Maggot Moon by Sally Gardner.

A non-existent unfamiliar world of oddness.
A society and premise different to the familiar - physically, culturally, geographically, and socially. 
The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness.

An alternative future of weird technology
Mortal Engines by Philip Reeve.

How can you begin to establish it's a different world? I would begin with the question - How do other authors do it?
Analyse People! Analyse!
I've taken a look at Philip Reeve's Mortal Engines to get you started.


In the first chapter Philip Reeve paints a picture. He establishes a world for the story, and creates a smaller world for the protagonist, Tom.

These are the notes I've made on my first pass through.

The book opens with: An Action Scene
The city of London is chasing a small mining town.

Establishing the bigger world:
Philip Reeves places us in an unfamiliar 'bigger world' as the action unfolds. Sometimes through dialogue, sometimes through announcements, observations, setting, interactions etc.

Names
Tom Natsworthy, Chudleigh Pomeroy, Herbert Melliphant, Clytie Potts

Geographical
St Paul's cathedral glinting gold, two thousand feet above the ruined earth, land-bridge, ziggurat-town.

Society
The Anti Traction League, guildsmen, apprentices, historians.

Religion
To the people of London it seemed like a sign from the gods.

Philosophy
Municipal Darwinism.

Food
…lawns grubbed up to make way for cabbage-plots and algae plants

Unique language and technical terms which help to establish this is not here and now.
Gut-duty, traction city, argon lamps, goggle screen, exhaust-stacks, sky-clipper.

Time and cultural references that set the book in an alternative future
"It's playing merry hell with my 35thCentury ceramics."
…once been the island of Britain.
…past the big plastic statues of Pluto and Mickey, animal headed gods of lost America.

Establishing the protagonist's smaller world:

Position in society
"He's just a third, a skivvy."

Friends
Clytie Potts - "Dancing and fireworks! Do you want to come?"

Enemies and conflict
Of a similar age: Herbert Melliphant - "We don't want Natsworthy's sort there."
In a position of power: Chudleigh Pomeroy - "Natsworty! What in Quirke's name do you think you're playing at?"

Personal History
"Natsworthy's mum and dad lived down on Four, see, and when the Big Tilt happened they both got squashed flat as a couple of raspberry pancakes: splat!"

Goal
To be a hero.

Brilliantly done! Philip Reeves is a master. All that in one chapter with no info dumps. It seems to me that the protagonist's smaller world can have a bigger GAP because it's dealing with emotions and situations common to all. But the bigger world needs a smaller GAP if it's unfamiliar.

Right, now go and analyse a book  in your genre. Get the highlighter pens out. Use a colour for each heading. Add your own headings. Then apply this to your own writing. Work out what the reader NEEDS TO KNOW and get rid of anything the reader DOESN'T NEED TO KNOW. Weave the info in and out of the action. And above all
THINK ABOUT THE GAP!

It'll be fun!
by
Maureen Lynas

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16. Come join us for November writing tips!

 

WGDW #58b

The response has been great! We’ve assembled a nice group of folks who are looking forward to their free daily writing tips all through the month of November.

There’s still time to sign up. Just go here for all the details and to get the free download of TOP 10 MISTAKES WRITERS MAKE. And be sure to tell your other writing pals. The more the merrier!

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17. Sign Up for November Writing Tips!


WGDW #58b

November is novel writing month! I’ve decided to expand the secret gift I was going to send a writer friend of mine, and send out daily writing inspiration and tips to anyone else who would like them! Here are the details. Sign up and let’s write!

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18. Moving House

Hi

Its been a while since I blogged and I’m actually excited to be tapping away at the keys on my keyboard and seeing words come alive on my screen.

Its been a busy period in my life and chief amongst the activities that have kept me busy all summer was a house move that seemed to drag on and on and on. Well, I’m happy to say my family and I have finally moved and I’m no longer a London boy. We moved to Kent fondly known as ‘The Garden of England.’ I now live in a beautiful and quiet village and my children are settling down in their new schools while I’m getting used to the longer journey into the centre of London where I work. We have good neighbors who’ve welcomed us with their smiles and cards.

We’re still unpacking but I can’t wait to set up my writing zone in our house. I started a mystery story in Spring which I’m looking to continue working on plus I want to write a Christmas story in time for the holiday season.diary of a wimpy kid My children really got into the ‘Diary of a Wimpy Kid’ books over the summer holidays and it was nice to see them devour the box-set my wife and I got for them. It made me want to write something in that genre just for them. Watch this space on that front.

Cheryl Carpinello who was a special guest on Author Interview Thursday many moons ago, did a special piece on her blog about writing tips from authors and there’s a snippet from yours truly included in that piece. A worthy read to inspire and encourage you so click the link below to read all about it.

Cheryl Carpinello’s Writing Tips

Have a lovely day.

 

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19. Insights Gleaned from Jane Yolen

A critical part of developing your craft as an author is research. Research involves a wide array of activities. It includes reading as much as you can in the genre you’re writing in. It involves attending writing conferences, networking with editors, agents and other authors. Part of it includes taking classes or reading the latest and greatest books on how to improve your writing. It also includes learning what other authors have to say on being an author.

As part of my recent research activities, I’ve been visiting the websites of some of my favorite children’s authors, one of which is the notorious and supremely talented Jane Yolen. I can’t count the number of times I’ve read one of her books only to say to myself, “Wow! That’s exactly the kind of book I wish I had written.”

In reading Jane Yolen’s “Random thoughts on writing and on children’s books” found on her website, here are a few highlights that resonated with me.

“I generally do not think out plots or characters ahead of time… I want my own writing to surprise me, the way someone else’s book does.”

“Sometimes [a work in progress] seems promising, sometimes brilliant, sometimes just plain stupid. And that may be the same piece on alternate days.”

“Intuition works best when you remember that “tuition” is part of it.”

“Know this about being published: it is out of your hands. Even if you do everything you can think of to affect that outcome, you cannot make an editor take your work.”

And perhaps my favorite;

A writer puts words on a page. An author lives in story…  Learn to write not with blood and fear, but with joy.”

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20. Interview: Nikki Grimes on Writing Poetry

nikki grimesComing this month, Poems in the Attic is a collection of poetry that creates a tender intergenerational story that speaks to every child’s need to hold onto special memories of home, no matter where that place might be. We interviewed master poet Nikki Grimes on her process for writing poetry and if she has any tips to share.

In Poems in the Attic, the reader is introduced to free verse and tanka styles of poetry. Why were you drawn to the tanka form?

Poetry, for me, has always been about telling a story or painting a picture using as few words  as possible.  Haiku and tabla are forms that epitomize that.  I’d previously played with an introduction to haiku in A Pocketful of Poems, and I have long since been intrigued with the idea of incorporating tanka in a story.  Poems in the Attic provided such an opportunity, so I jumped on it.

Many readers are intimidated by poetry or think it is not for them. For people who find poetry difficult, where would you recommend they start?

Start with word play.  I sometimes like to take a word and study it through the lens of my senses.  Take the word “lemon”, for instance.  What is its shape, its scent,  its color?  Does it make a sound?  Does it have a taste?  How would you describe that sound, that taste?  Where is a lemon to be found?  What does it do or what can you do with it?  In answering such questions, in a line or two in response to each question, one ends up either with a poem or the makings of a poem.

poems in the atticIs there something people can do to be “good” at writing poetry? Where do you find inspiration when you get stuck?

There are a few answers to that question.

  1. Read poetry voraciously.  If you aspire to write good poetry, you must first know what that looks like.
  2. Practice, practice, practice.  Writing is a muscle that must be exercises, no matter the genre.
  3. Play.  Build your vocabulary.  Experiment with a variety of forms.  For too many trying poetry, rhyme is their default.  But rhyme is bot synonymous with poetry.  It is merely one element of it.  Explore metaphor, simile, alliteration, assonance, and all the other elements of poetry.  Think interns of telling a story and painting a picture with words.  These practices will lead you somewhere wonderful.

What’s one of your favorite lines from a poem?

I love lines from my poem “Chinese Painting” in Tai Chi Morning: Snapshots of China.  In seeking to describe the magic of a master painter, I wrote

“a few strokes

And a bird is born

A few more,

And it sings.”

Do you prefer poetry on the page or poetry read aloud? Who is your favorite poet to hear or read?

I especially love poetry on the page, in part because not all poets read their work well.  I do love to hear Naomi Shihabe Nye, though, and I especially loved to hear the exquisite Lucille Clifton.

Learn more about Poems in the Attic on our website or Nikki Grime’s website.

 

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21. On Plot Structuring

Cross-posted to Aquafortis. I'm finally back to having time to devote to my WIP--or I should perhaps say, I have seized time back from the ravening bitch-goddess that is unexpected work. Not to mention the slightly less ravening bitch-goddess that... Read the rest of this post

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22. 8 Ways Character Relationships Can Enhance Your Writing


Tonight in the night class I teach at a local university on writing children's books, we'll be talking about how the relationships your characters have can deepen your story's plot, enhance the connection between your characters and readers, raise tension, complicate conflicts, and much more.

The following are 8 ways you can use relationships between your characters to enhance the stories you write:

  1. Create resonance with your audience by putting your characters in relationships that matter most to and intrigue your readers 
  2. Use your character relationships to better reveal your characters’ personality and inner conflicts 
  3. Use character relationships to pull your readers deeper into the story and your characters’ lives 
  4. Use your character interactions to give your characters more profound opportunities to experience growth or change 
  5. Deepen your plot with character relationships that increase the conflict, tension and emotional/physical stakes of the story 
  6. Deepen your plot with character relationships that impede, thwart or help the protagonists’ success, or distract the protagonist from the end goal 
  7. Raise the emotional tension of your stories by creating relationship events or taking character relationships in a direction that terrify your readers 
  8. Increase the emotional connection between your readers and characters by creating relationship events or taking character relationships in a direction that makes readers worry, sad and/or happy

Image courtesy of arztsamui at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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23. Get Started as a Travel Writer and Make Money Writing

Travel writing, surprisingly, is a genre that’s been around since at least the 2nd century AD when Pausanias wrote the Description of Greece. Narrative travel stories and travel diaries gained wide popularity during the Song Dynasty in medieval China, and of course, the English classic by Jonathan Swift, Gulliver’s Travels, has been continuously in print […]
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24. The Imagined Life of Imaginary Things: Michelle Cuevas on Writing About Imaginary Friends

Confessions of an Imaginary Friend, is the imagined life of imaginary things.

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25. New Voices Award Winners on Revising Your Story

New Voices Award sealThis year marks our sixteenth annual New Voices Award, Lee & Low’s writing contest for unpublished writers of color.

In this blog series, past New Voices winners gather to give advice for new writers. This month, we’re talking about one of the most important steps in writing a story: revision.

Question: What does your revision process look like??

pamela tuckPamela Tuck, author of As Fast As Words Could Fly, New Voices Winner 2007

The first tip I would like to give new writers about revision is to understand that there is a difference between revising, editing, and proofreading. Editing and proofreading cover word economy, word choices, and grammatical errors. But true revision runs deeper. Revision is Rethinking, Reseeing, and Reworking your ideas, your voice, and your plot into an engaging masterpiece.

After I’ve written my first draft, I already know that it’s going to be BAD. Too wordy, somewhat disconnected, and possibly even confusing. The idea of it all is to capture those fast and furious and jumbled thoughts on paper in some sort of order, and then mold and shape them into a sensible, readable, and hopefully publishable manuscript.

One of my first steps in revision is making sure I have a steady flow to my storyline. I’m looking for a beginning to hook my reader, a middle to engage them, and a satisfactory ending. I try to make sure I’ve provided explanation to possible questions my readers may have by using subtle descriptions, active verbs, and concise word choices that will paint the best pictures and explain my thoughts. Once my story has taken shape, I call in my “critical crew” (family and friends) to read my first draft. Reading out loud helps me hear my mistakes and/or thoughts and also highlights areas that may not be as clear to the reader as I thought. I can also tell from my critical crew’s feedback, whether or not my writing is making the impact I desire it to make. After pouring my heart out and letting it get “trampled” on by loving, supportive family and friends, it’s time to let the story (and my heart) rest for a while (a few days, a week, a month, or however long it takes). This “waiting period” is a good time to do further research on your topic (if applicable) just in case you run across a fresh idea or different aspect that can be added to enhance the story during the second revision stage.

During the next stage of revision, I’m able to read my manuscript with “fresh eyes.” I try to make sure that what I’ve written says what I want it to say in a way the reader will understand. Then I try to perfect my voice and dialogue to make sure they are as realistic and powerful as they can be. This is when I pull in those editorial and proofreading skills, to challenge myself with better word choices and sentence structures that will give the effect I’m looking for. I incorporate any new research ideas that may clarify or give a little more detail to vague thoughts or ideas. Then it’s time to call in the critical crew again. After another round of reading aloud and analyzing, I repeat the process over and over again, until I feel satisfied with my manuscript as a writer, and the critical crew leaves my heart feeling elated.

paula yooPaula Yoo, author of Sixteen Years in Sixteen Seconds, New Voices Winner 2003

Are you sure you want to see my self-revision process? I’m going to warn you now. It’s really messy. I mean, SUPER MESSY.

There are two stages of revision for me. For REVISION STAGE 1.0, I spend the majority of time just brainstorming. NO actual writing is involved, other than jotting down casual notes. I ask myself tough questions about character motivation, emotional journeys, and voice. I brainstorm a storyline or plot based on what I discover about my character’s journey. This includes using index cards and outlines. For old school longhand, I use both yellow legal pads with a clipboard and my trusty Moleskine notebook. When I’m on my MacBook laptop or iPad, I use my favorite writing software apps – Scrivener, Scapple, Index Card, and Omm Writer.

New Voices Award Winners on RevisionsSo during the brainstorming time, I’m actually constantly revising as I free-associate and slowly build, tear down, and rebuild the structure for my story. This Revision Stage 1.0 of brainstorming is a writing process I was taught as a professional TV drama writer/producer. In TV, writers are not allowed to write the first draft of a script until they have brainstormed the story beats non-stop and have crafted a detailed, solid outline in which every single story point and character emotional arc has been mapped out completely.

Once I’m done with this brainstorming/revision session, I write. There’s no revision here. I just write straight from the heart. It’s raw and messy and inspired.

THEN I enter REVISION STAGE 2.0. This is where I print out what I wrote, find my favorite coffeehouse or library, and curl up on a comfy sofa chair or take over a library study carrel or coffeehouse corner table, and whip out the red pen. Yes, I use red ink. I wear glasses (bifocals too!), so red is just easier for me to read.

I simultaneously line edit (based on my former life as a newspaper and magazine journalist) and also jot down revision notes for the Bigger Picture. Some Bigger Picture revision questions include: Does the character’s inner personality and struggle organically inspire every single plot point and twist in the storyline? Do the story beats align in a logical and structured manner? Is there any “on the nose” dialogue I can tweak to be more natural sounding and even subtextual? Have I grounded the setting in each scene? And so on.

I also handwrite new lines or ideas or snippets of dialogue that float into my brain as I revise.

Once I’m done with this red pen marking mess, I then input everything into the computer in a new file (either a new folder in Scrivener or a new document in Word). Then I make a copy of that revised file and add a new date to it and start fleshing that version out more on the computer.

Then I move onto writing new material (either new scenes or chapters). When I’m stuck or need a break or want to pause and re-examine the new stuff I’ve just written, I print everything out and grab the red pen. Rinse and repeat. :)

In other words, I’m constantly revising. I’m never not revising. I told you, my self-revision process was messy! But it’s worth it in the end when a beautiful book rises out of that big crazy messy pile of red pen marks. :)

glenda armandGlenda Armand, author of Love Twelve Miles Long, New Voices Winner 2006

Once I have completed the first draft of a picture book, I put it away and start working on another manuscript.

I go back to the first manuscript and read it with fresh eyes. As I read it, I make changes. I read it again and again, over the course of days, each time making changes, big and small.

Once I can read the whole thing, without making a single change, I know that it is almost there! I put it away again.

When I come back to it and can read it again without revising, I give it to my sister, Jenny, the retired librarian, to read.

I tell her that I think it is perfect and that she is not going to find a single thing that needs to be changed. Jenny gives me a smug look and says, “Okay.”

Later, we get together and she offers her ideas and critiques. I get annoyed. Why? Because her suggestions are always spot on. I revise based on her opinions, and it always makes the manuscript better (I admit reluctantly).  I keep revising until we both think it is perfect. At that point, I am ready to send it to my agent. She usually offers ideas from her unique perspective that I take into account and revise the manuscript again.

I actually enjoy revising. I appreciate the input of my agent, editor—and my sister (but don’t tell her. It will go to her head).

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