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<<July 2016>>
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Viewing: Blog Posts Tagged with: the writing life, Most Recent at Top [Help]
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1. When Art is Seconds Away From Total Collapse

As I’m in the midst of edits again, I’ve thought often of this post. Happy writing, friends.

The truth is that the piece of art which seems so profoundly right in its finished state may earlier have been only inches or seconds away from total collapse.

This quote has been running through my mind since July.

There are so many ways for a work of art to fail. But thankfully there are even more opportunities to try and get it right. During the editing process, BLUE BIRDS has balanced on the edge of disaster again and again, but it has come back, stronger, clearer, more fully itself.

And one day, I will set it free. It will be a separate thing from me. I’ll no longer need to stand by, ready to interpret or hold it steady.

It will fly.

The post When Art is Seconds Away From Total Collapse originally appeared on Caroline Starr Rose

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2. An Interview with Tricia Springstubb, Author of Every Single Second

Twelve-year-old Nella Sabatini’s life is changing too soon, too fast. Her best friend, Clem, doesn’t seem concerned; she’s busy figuring out the best way to spend the “leap second”—an extra second about to be added to the world’s official clock. The only person who might understand how Nella feels is Angela, but the two of them have gone from being “secret sisters” to not talking at all.

Then Angela’s idolized big brother makes a terrible, fatal mistake, one that tears apart their tight-knit community and plunges his family into a whirlwind of harsh publicity and judgment. In the midst of this controversy, Nella is faced with a series of startling revelations about her parents, friends, and neighborhood. As Angela’s situation becomes dangerous, Nella must choose whether to stand by or stand up. Her heart tries to tell her what to do, but can you always trust your heart? The clock ticks down, and in that extra second, past and present merge—the future will be up to her. 

With an engaging protagonist, a fast-moving story, important themes subtly conveyed, and touches of humor, this is a richly layered story that will have wide appeal. — Kirkus Reviews, starred review

Nella’s growing awareness of endings and beginnings, the meaning of friendship, and the power of choices combine to create an unsettling, compelling, and heartwarming tale. — Publishers Weekly, starred review

What drew you to this story?

Every Single Second didn’t draw me in—it yanked me! To be honest, I was afraid of this story. I wasn’t sure I’d be able to write it. But it got hold of me and refused to let go.

I first began thinking about it when a local young woman (whose family I slightly knew) threatened to commit a crime. Even though she had problems that left her too frail and confused to hurt anyone, she was arrested and jailed. On-line, she became the object of scorn and mockery from people who, of course, knew nothing about her. Her family was already reeling from what had happened, and this casual cruelty devastated them all the more. I couldn’t stop thinking about how easily we can judge others, without any real understanding of them.

The other event was a shooting much like the central event of Every Single Second, which I read about in the news. An African-American man who’d been in a car accident knocked on a door late at night and the woman inside called 9-1-1. Police officers showed up, and within seconds the injured, unarmed man was dead. Photos of him and the white officer who shot him were printed side by side. The victim looked heart-breakingly young and earnest. The officer was also young, and his expression was a blur of confusion and fear. Their faces riveted me. Two unconnected lives had crossed; one moment had changed everything. I kept thinking about who the officer was, wondering how he became the person who pulled that trigger. Again, I wanted to know more, to look deeper and try, if I could, to understand. 

As I worked, national events, including the unthinkable death of Tamir Rice here in Cleveland, made the writing harder but also more urgent.

During my middle and high school years, three different accidental shootings affected my classmates, one resulting in death. Unfortunately, other young people have had similar experiences. Even so, I can’t think of one book I’ve ever encountered on the subject. What are some of the challenges you faced in writing about such a difficult topic?    

Writing for young readers is always an enormous privilege, but I especially felt that with this book. I so badly wanted to get this complicated story right! Stories, like our lives, don’t march in straight lines. They rush forward, slip backward, skitter sideways. We think in terms of beginnings and endings, but I wanted to show that every story starts long before “chapter one” and continues way beyond “the end”. I wrote from the point of view of Nella, a white girl who’s close to the shooter. She’s been shaped by her community, as we all are. For me, the book’s biggest challenge was to be true to who Nella is, while showing her begin to question what she’s been taught. It’s scary to reject things we’ve always believed. It’s risky to trust our own hearts, and form a new, untried view of the world. Every Single Second deals with class and racial divides, and questions of what it means to be “good” or “bad”. These are the kinds of issues middle graders get really passionate about, and my deepest, fondest hope is that the book will inspire lots of questions and discussions. (I’m very glad that HarperCollins will publish a reading and discussion guide teachers and book groups can use!)

When writing about difficult things, do you intentionally bring in moments to ease the tension of the storyline? If yes, how so? 

I was brought up to believe we need humor in bad times even more than in good. I’m a natural optimist, and love to laugh (one more reason I adore being around kids). While I was working on this book, the venerable Jeptha A. Stone miraculously appeared. He’s a monument who lives (in a manner of speaking) in the cemetery where Nella’s father is the groundskeeper, and he serves as a sort of Greek chorus. Jeptha is a pompous old guy with a heart of (what else?) stone, and he gets his own story arc. One of the book’s themes is that we all have powerful voices, if only we have the courage to use them, and one of my very favorite moments is when Jeptha speaks. Or does he?


the monument that gave me the idea for Jeptha Stone

Maybe the biggest challenge of writing middle grade is respecting the huge issues kids face without going too far into the darkness. Let there always be light and laughter!

How is Every Single Second different from your other books? How is it similar?

I’ve never dealt so directly with violence. Some people might also say I’ve never written about anything so topical, though really, unfortunately, the book’s issues have been with us for a very, very long time. Something I was aware of the whole time I was writing was that I didn’t want to hold back. With this book, I pinned my meaty heart to my sleeve. 

But Every Single Second does share things with my earlier books. Nella’s neighborhood is crucial to the story. A sense of place is always deeply important to me (What Happened on Fox Street and Moonpenny Island are titled for their settings!).  My characters often come from working class families, and economic class is always an issue, even when it just hovers in the background. Also, I can’t seem to stop writing about sisters or father-daughter relationships!

What are you working on now?

I just finished writing the fourth book in my series for younger middle grade readers. Cody and the Fountain of Happiness came out last spring, and Cody and the Mysteries of the Universe published this April. These are such fun books to write, and Eliza Wheeler’s illustrations are genius!

Now I’m tiptoeing around a middle grade novel set in a fictional country more than a hundred years ago. I’d really love to write fantasy, but I’m just too literal a person. I’m hoping that escaping the present and wandering the past will be the next best thing.

Tricia is offering one reader here the opportunity to win signed a copy of Every Single Second. Simply leave a comment below by Friday, June 17. A winner will be randomly selected. US residents only, please.

Tricia is the author of many books for children, including the award winning middle grade novels What Happened on Fox Street, its well-loved sequel, Mo Wren Lost and Found, and Moonpenny Island. Tricia has worked as a Head Start teacher and a children’s librarian. Besides writing and, of course, reading, she loves doing school and library visits. Mother of three grown daughters (and a brand new Nana!), she lives in Cleveland Heights, Ohio. You can contact her at www.triciaspringstubb.com.



The post An Interview with Tricia Springstubb, Author of Every Single Second originally appeared on Caroline Starr Rose

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3. Writing Links


How to Make a Storyboard :: Uri Shulevitz

Don’t Worry, It Only Gets Harder :: Writer Unboxed

What Nobody Tells You About Being a Best-Selling Author :: Goins, Writer

Five Things I Wish I’d Known Five Months Before I Published My First Novel :: Medium

Books About Girls Who Rescue Themselves :: Powell’s City of Books
**Honored to find May B. on the top of the list!

Common Rejections and What They Mean :: Tara Lazar

The post Writing Links originally appeared on Caroline Starr Rose

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4. Are you seldom disappointed or do you hold to wild hope?


Last year I recorded a podcast with author Tsh Oxenreider. As we talked about submissions and rejection, Tsh mentioned the idea of “it’s just business, it’s not personal” not being an entirely helpful or true way to look at the writing life, at least in her experience. “It’s business and it’s personal” is more accurate, she said. It’s personal because not only has she invested in what she’s created, a piece of writing grows out of who she is.

This is absolutely spot on in my experience, too. An author has hope for her work, wild hope that it will connect with an agent or an editor who believes in it as she does. That wild hope must also run through the writing itself. The creative act cannot hold back. It cannot be guarded or careful or tame. For me, both writing and the writing life must be all in.

Being all in has its risks. There is the possibility of rejection. (Not just the possibility. In this line of work the reality of rejection is always present.) There is the possibility that even books that sell won’t go the way you hoped or planned. Elizabeth Gilbert says “creativity asks you to enter into realms of uncertain outcome.”

Your job is to create. You don’t get to decide the rest.

Uncertain outcomes mean sometimes you’ll be hugely disappointed. It’s important to let yourself acknowledge this, to let yourself grieve the work that didn’t have the future you’d hoped. This is hard and painful and so disappointing. But I rather do this than not hope at all.

Recently a friend told me she’d read Tony Hillerman’s memoir, Seldom Disappointed. The quote comes from something his mother told him: Blessed are those who expect little; they are seldom disappointed. He carried this idea into his writing life, a place he had huge success.

It’s interesting that just days after this conversation I started re-reading Anne of Green Gables and in it found Mrs. Hillerman’s advice, almost word for word, this time in the voice of Mrs. Rachel Lynde.

It’s Anne’s response to Rachel’s words that I prefer:

“You set your heart too much on things, Anne,” said Marilla with a sigh. “I’m afraid there’ll be a great many disappointments in store for you through life.”

“Oh, Marilla, looking forward to things is half the pleasure of them,” exclaimed Anne. “You mayn’t get the things themselves; but nothing can prevent you from having the fun of looking forward to them. Mrs. Lynde says, ‘Blessed are they who expect nothing for they shall not be disappointed.’ But I think it would be worse to expect nothing than to be disappointed.”

If I hold back hope I hold back heart, the very thing my writing needs.

The post Are you seldom disappointed or do you hold to wild hope? originally appeared on Caroline Starr Rose

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5. Five Bits of Encouragement from My Inbox


I ain’t going to lie. This round of edits has been really tough. So I was encouraged to find these good words waiting for me on Monday.

As soon as we realize that there is a difference between right now and what might happen next, we can move ourselves to the posture of possibility, to the self-fulfilling engine of optimism.
— Seth Godin

I’m an optimist. I don’t know why. But it has made things easier.
— Geoff Herbach (…wise words from his grandmother)

Place your attention on what is occurring now, not anticipating the future.
— Ennea Thought for the Day

In life, it’s impossible to always feel like everything is going well and that you’re exactly where you want to be in terms of success. It’s like the tide – it ebbs and flows. Sometimes you’ll feel successful, like the high tide, and other times, the tide will go out and you’ll feel dissatisfied with the way things are going. You just have to ride it out. Eventually, the tides will turn again.
— Lisa Schroeder (…from the podcast Millennial)

And this one came through on Tuesday —

Optimism is true moral courage.
– Ernest Shackleton

The post Five Bits of Encouragement from My Inbox originally appeared on Caroline Starr Rose

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6. On Writing

A friend of mine who writes history books said to me that he thought that the two creatures most to be pitied were the spider and the novelist — their lives hanging by a tread spun out of their own guts. But in some ways I think writers of fiction are the creatures most to be envied, because who else besides the spider is allowed to take that fragile thread and weave it into a pattern? What a gift of grace to be a ble to take the chaos from within and from it to create some semblance of order.


The post On Writing originally appeared on Caroline Starr Rose

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7. That Jasper Johnson


Jefferson “Soapy” Smith was an unsavory sort who worked Skagway, Alaska when Jasper passed through.

I can’t wait to introduce  you to Jasper next spring. For now, I’ll give you a peek into the way he thinks. (Coming across this section during edits has encouraged me. It might feel like I don’t know how to write a whole darn book, but this reminds me I don’t have to have it all figured out straight away. I’m responsible for showing up and doing my daily work to the best of my ability.)

Since leaving home I’ve stowed away and tracked down Mel and climbed a mountain and traveled the Yukon on a flimsy raft, and tackled a whole pile of other things I ain’t never done before. Now ain’t the time to start believing I got to have things figured out before I try.

Now, back to work on the editing…

The post That Jasper Johnson originally appeared on Caroline Starr Rose

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8. Top Writing Posts of All Time


After six and half years of blogging, I thought it would be fun to revive some oldies but goodies. The plan is to do this once a month. You can see the first, Top Posts of All Time, here, and the second, My Favorite Posts of all Time, here.

The posts below are consistently clicked most when people come to the blog for writing advice. I hope you enjoy!

(BLUE) BIRD BY (BLUE) BIRD: On Small Writing Goals and Big Change
Writing Contests and Grants: Why You Should Enter
Will Verse Work for Your Story?
There is No Schedule
5 Things I Learned from NaNoWriMo
What’s the Purpose of Your Writing?
Book Mapping My Way Through Blue Birds
Novel Revision Class: Quotes and Links on Revision
Writing Advice for the Long Haul
Running as a Metaphor for Writing

The post Top Writing Posts of All Time originally appeared on Caroline Starr Rose

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9. The Work Behind the Work: Second-Round Edits


Looks like no one ever taught me you’re just supposed to highlight the important parts. Oh, wait. It’s all important.

One letter, five highlighters, one notebook full of scribbling, one marked up manuscript, one calendar, one phone call with my editor. This is how second-round edits begin.

And this is the shrunk down version of the letter, a little cheat sheet that will guide me when I need direction…


… and here’s an expanded version to take me chapter through chapter.


I’ve never done edits precisely this way before and probably won’t do them just like this again. Each book is a journey, and I do my best to follow along.

Writers out there, do you always edit in the same way or does your approach change?




The post The Work Behind the Work: Second-Round Edits originally appeared on Caroline Starr Rose

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10. Classroom Connections: Counting Thyme by Melanie Conklin

age range: 10 and up
genre: contemporary fiction
setting: New York City
Melanie Conklin’s website
Preview the first three chapters

Please tell us about your book.

Counting Thyme is the story of Thyme Owens, an eleven-year-old girl whose family moves across the country for her little brother’s cancer treatment. It’s a story about family, friendship, and finding your place in the world when life throws you a curveball.

What inspired you to write this story?

The idea for this story came to me after I read a bunch of middle grade books with protagonists who were facing serious illnesses. I wondered what it would be like to be the sibling of a gravely ill child. I wondered how the conflicts at home would influence the conflicts at school. I thought it would be especially tough if you were just starting middle school, with all of the social pressures involved at that time in life. Thyme’s story grew from there!

Could you share with readers how you conducted your research or share a few interesting tidbits you learned while researching?

In my past life as a product designer, I did a ton of research at the outset of every new project. It’s no different for me with books. Once I have an idea, I conduct an audit—which is a fancy way of saying that I cast a wide net and gather research from all of the reputable sources in that subject area. With Counting Thyme, I gathered a tremendous amount of information online, because research hospitals are very interested in sharing knowledge. I also read countless blogs posted by parents of pediatric cancer patients to gain insight into their everyday lives and the ups and downs of treatment. When I had questions, I posted them on discussion forums and parents graciously answered, helping me understand the intricacies of their world.

What are some special challenges associated with writing middle grade?

My favorite thing about MG fiction is the way it explores tough topics in an honest way, while preserving a safe space for young readers. It’s tough to nail that balance. It took many passes of revision to balance the emotion and the information in Counting Thyme, so that readers can understand what’s happening without being bogged down by too much medical information. My favorite books are the ones that manage this balance effortlessly (although I now know that a lot of effort goes into that!).

What topics does your book touch upon that would make it a perfect fit for the classroom?

Because Counting Thyme is set in New York City, there’s a lot going on in the story. Thyme’s family moves into a multiple story apartment building, so she experiences living with close neighbors for the first time, which is a great touchstone for talking about the different ways that people live. There are also characters of many different backgrounds and ethnicities, which is what makes NYC so wonderful. This theme provides an opportunity to talk about different family traditions and cultures. Other themes touch on sibling relationships, honesty versus secrets, what it means to be a friend, and what it means to be counted (in your family, and in the world at large).

The post Classroom Connections: Counting Thyme by Melanie Conklin originally appeared on Caroline Starr Rose

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11. The Beauty of Imagination: Early Beginnings with a New Idea


In the last year, while not working on other projects, I’ve researched,  tinkered, and thought a lot about a new novel idea. The first whiff of it came to me when I read You Are Not So Smart: Why You Have Too Many Friends on Facebook, Why Your Memory Is Mostly Fiction, and 46 Other Ways You’re Deluding Yourself quickly followed by You Are Now Less Dumb: How to Conquer Mob Mentality, How to Buy Happiness, and All the Other Ways to Outsmart Yourself.

Looking at those titles even now, if feels so obvious what this new idea of mine is about. Human nature. Holding on to things that may not serve us or even be true or right. But it’s more than that. I can’t think of these books and not imagine that everyone reading this post now knows the exact circumstance of my new idea and particularly the type of character these books brought to mind. That’s the beauty of the imagination, though. We can be exposed to the same material and end up in an entirely different place.

Two weeks ago I pulled Writing the Breakout Novel off my shelf, thinking I’d poke around in it a bit. It hasn’t been since the first stirrings of Blue Birds that I’ve read it (I found all sorts of highlights that point toward the book Blue Birds became). What started as a casual skim became a solid re-read. I always need brushing up on that thing called plot and — who am I kidding — all the other stuff that makes a compelling novel. (More than once while reading it I’ve thought “That’s what my editor was trying to tell me in my last editorial letter!”)

This time through Breakout Novel is speaking to me in an entirely different way. Because my ideas are different this time around.

That’s the beauty of the imagination. We can be exposed to the same material and end up in an entirely different place.

The post The Beauty of Imagination: Early Beginnings with a New Idea originally appeared on Caroline Starr Rose

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12. Writing Links


Advice for Publishing a Children’s Book :: Daily Herald

Ingrid’s Monster List of Craft Books :: Ingrid Sundberg

On Parting Ways with Literary Agents by Joy McCullough-Carranza :: Project Mayhem

Post “Meh” Debut: Your Options :: Between Fact and Fiction

To Blog or Not to Blog, That is the Question :: Rachelle Gardner

Secrets to Long-Haul Creativity :: Medium

The post Writing Links originally appeared on Caroline Starr Rose

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13. Leave space for the reader to contribute

airplane view

There is a much overlooked element in picture books – the white space. The designer looks after this. This is the space in which the child readers make their own interpretations. A room crammed with furniture is not inviting. Nor is a book too full of words and pictures. Leave space for the reader to contribute. This will foster literacy of both kinds in the child, the visual and the verbal. It will also actively engage and stimulate the imagination.
-Joyce Dunbar

The post Leave space for the reader to contribute originally appeared on Caroline Starr Rose

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14. Tinker, Breathe, Create, Play


I’ve written often about Valerie Geary around here, my critique partner I met when we both started blogging in 2009. We’ve seen each other through a number of manuscripts, a million emails about the writing life, and one glorious writing retreat that included mid-morning runs, lots of good conversation, and a bottle of wine I received when May B. sold (thanks, Helen Theriot!).

I don’t know how I’d keep chugging away without friends who understand this weird and wonderful process, who encourage me when I need it and let me do the same.

Here’s a recent exchange:

me: I’m tinkering with the new book. Very slowly. Long hand and then some typing. Two and a half hours gave me something like 200 words.

Val: Keep tinkering, friend. No rush, no urgency. Breathe, find small moments to create. These first few steps are so small and feel like they take us nowhere, but they are important to building a book. We’ll take bigger steps later on down the road. For now…play.


The post Tinker, Breathe, Create, Play originally appeared on Caroline Starr Rose

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15. On Writing

red skies

We want to be great — immediately great — but that’s not how creativity works. It is an awkward, tentative, even embarrassing process. There will be many times when we won’t look good — to ourselves or anyone else. We need to stop demanding that we do. It is impossible to get better and look good at the same time.
— Julia Cameron, The Artist’s Way


Click through to sign up for my quarterly newsletter and you’ll receive a free printable from my novel, Blue Birds. Enjoy!

The post On Writing originally appeared on Caroline Starr Rose

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16. Straight From the Source: Julie Berry on Writing Historical Fiction

Julie Berry is the author of the acclaimed young adult novel The Passion of Dolssa, the award-winning, All the Truth That’s in Me (2013, Viking) and The Scandalous Sisterhood of Prickwillow Place (2014, Roaring Brook), and six other critically acclaimed titles for young readers. She grew up in western New York and holds a BS from Rensselaer in communication and an MFA from Vermont College in writing for children and young adults. Before becoming an author, she worked in software sales and marketing. She now lives in southern California with her husband and four sons. Find her online at www.julieberrybooks.com, or on Twitter.

What typically comes first for you: a character? An era? A story idea? How do you proceed from there?

For The Passion of Dolssa, both character and era came first, or rather, both found me independently. For a long time I’d been fascinated by the brave young women mystics of the Middle Ages. I had wanted to explore them more in some kind of project. Quite separately, I thought it would be fun to write a main character who was a matchmaker. In yet another corner of my brain, an idea rolled around about a group of three sisters, witches in a very small sense of the word, running a tavern (although young). In another disconnected vein of my life, I was taking a history of the Middle Ages course, where I learned for the first time about the violent history of anti-heresy warfare and inquisition in southern France in the 13th Century. Then one day I had a sort of eureka moment where all of these separate strands braided themselves together as one story idea. And I was off and running.

How do you conduct your research?

Muddlingly. I try to immerse myself as much as I can in books about, and written during, that time period. One of the most important things, I find, is determining which are the most credible, current, trusted academians whose books will best help you unravel the complex past. History (the study of the past, as opposed to the past itself) is anything but monolithic and unanimous. Our study and understanding of our past is constantly changing. So I think it’s vital to be a critical consumer of historical sources, and pay close attention to choosing well whom to trust. Once I know what I’m looking for, it’s often a hunt to acquire rare or out-of-print titles that I need. I try to read as much as I can that was written during that time period, also, so I can hear the voices and language of the time (filtered through the lens of who’s doing the writing – too often it’s only the elite and the empowered). I generally need to read my important sources twice.

In addition to lots of reading, I spend a lot of time with maps and museum resources, trying to see as much as possible what the world I envision actually looked like. I look for music historians who can help me hear their nearly lost tunes, and for historically based cookbooks so I know what ingredients they had and how they cooked. I’m chasing down all sorts of things like when would the sun have set at that latitude at this date, and what did they eat/wear/shoot/burn/drive/marry, etc.. Best of all, whenever possible, I try to go to the location where my story takes place. I need to absorb the sense of place as much as my senses allow me to. 

You do have a specific system for collecting data?

I fear I don’t have a specific system for anything in my life. “Dive in and muck around” is pretty much my approach.

At what point do you feel comfortable beginning to draft? How does your research continue once you begin writing?

I usually write in tandem with the research. I’m quite comfortable making changes later as I need to. But I think getting to know a character and getting to know her world can happen in tandem, so long as you’re willing to make painful changes if needed. For example, if you reach a point where you realize that your character has attitudes or opinions she couldn’t possibly have had at that place and time, you have to be willing to perform radical character surgery. But that said, I find that I can hum along on both tracks. Writing a rough first draft as I research helps me focus my inquiries onto things I actually need to know.

What is your favorite thing about research?

Oh, I could just stay right in the research rabbit-hole and never come out. I love, love, love the learning. At first, all the strange names and places are generally bewildering. Most complex historical texts will introduce you to a long list of players in the drama of the past, and it’s a lot to keep track of. In my last book, just about every man, no lie, was named Raimon. “Everyone’s Named Raymond,” basically. So the magic, for me, is when I’ve studied enough and taken enough notes to reach the point where it’s all clicking. I remember who’s who and where’s where and why it all matters. When I can coherently explain it to someone else in detail, then I know I’m ready to make a good story with it. It feels terrific to reach the peak of that mountain.

What are some obstacles writing historical fiction brings?

The pill that was hardest for me to swallow, but most necessary, is accepting that fact that no matter how hard I work to be accurate, I can’t ever be fully accurate in my depiction of the past. This is because, no matter how I try to understand their world, their beliefs, their cultural context, I can’t stop myself from being someone who looks at it from the anachronistic perspective of their future. I am looking back. I know how their story ends. And I’m a child of a different planet, so to speak. The past is a country I’ve never visited, nor can I. Even the most devotedly researched book remains a work of artifice, of pretend, of illusion. So, in a sense, the hardest part of this job is that you know from the get-go that you’ll fail. Art comes into play as you accept those limitations and reach toward the ideal of truth, beautifully if possible, anyway.

What’s one of the most interesting things you’ve learned while researching?

Stuff that’s generally unprintable. 😉

Why is historical fiction important?

I’m not sure how many people would ever decide to study the past, preserve it for future generations, and distill what it has to teach us, if they didn’t learn to care about it, somewhere along the line. I think historical fiction, especially the highest quality historical fiction for young readers, helps link young minds to the past through the caring they come to feel for real and fictitious characters, now dead. The hallmark of good fiction is how it tells the truth and enables empathy. By pointing that understanding and caring toward the past, we help young people – not just the future historians, but future thinkers of every kind – see themselves as heirs of a tremendous legacy and the forebears of a hopeful future. In other words, as a part of, but not the center of, humanity.

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The post Straight From the Source: Julie Berry on Writing Historical Fiction originally appeared on Caroline Starr Rose

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17. My Favorite Posts of All Time

Roy truck

After six and half years of blogging, I thought it would be fun to revive some oldies but goodies. The plan is to do this once a month. You can see the first, Top Posts of All Time, here.

The posts I’m sharing today have struck a deep chord in me. Whether they made me feel like I was part of something important (the Donalyn Miller interview), were an out-of-the-blue email from a reader, or were reflections on the writing process (pretty much everything else), these are the words I want to return to, that feel familiar and right and brave. I hope you enjoy them, too.

The Book Whisperer: An Interview with Donalyn Miller
Plowing, Planting, Hoping, Dreaming
Ode to a Research Notebook
Sometimes You Get an Email That Takes Your Breath Away
Step by Step, Word by Word
The Then and the Now: Reflections Over Chicago
5 Ways I’m Learning to Write Smart and Not Scared

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18. Reading and Writing Links


How to Balance Showing Versus Telling :: Jody Hedlund

Book Club Resources :: The Deliberate Reader

21 Things I Wish I’d Known Before I Started Writing :: The Review Review

5 Rituals and Routines that Changed My Writing Life :: Huffington Post

“That was my own little MFA” — novelist Camille Pagán on frustration and success :: Laura Vanderkam

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19. Classics Take up Residence in Our Hearts


. . . When we read the classic stories that make us laugh aloud or cry, or shrivel with fright or hug ourselves with happiness, it is my hunch that we could, if we tried, track the main idea down to a pivotal moment in the writer’s life—or several pivotal moments. These classic stories have the quality of ‘difference.’ They are here today, and here tomorrow, and here the day after, since children’s books and folktales which are loved and remembered do more than entertain for a while: they move children profoundly, and having done so they take up residence in their hearts and stay there. They are remembered affectionately, sometimes word for word, into adulthood.
— Mem Fox


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20. Writing Links

airplane view

Evolution of a Writing Process by Donna Galanti :: Project Mayhem

Ingredients of Good Multicultural Historical Fiction: Psychology :: Mad About MG History

Writing Rules :: Writer Unboxed

That One Time When Linda Urban Put Me In My Place :: SharpRead

The Editorial Dance: Finding the Right Editor :: Darcy Pattison’s Fiction Notes

Sarah Aronson Talks Desserts, Playing, and Rebooting One’s Writing Career :: Greenhouse Literary

What do you think of the blog? I’d love to hear from you!

The post Writing Links originally appeared on Caroline Starr Rose

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21. Sometimes The Writing Process Involves Getting Things Wrong & What I Do About It

I'd forgotten that sometimes, writing work means getting things wrong. Your editor, client or whoever has final approval on the piece may have so many queries the hurt from looking at the red-inked tracked changes is almost physical. That was how I felt yesterday. The PR company I write for sent back an article I wrote for them, and they had at least 10 queries, and when  I read what they

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22. 6 Take Aways from a Stay-at-Home Writing Retreat

Klondike Boo

Last week my husband took the boys to the Mountain West Basketball Tournament, giving me four days with the house to myself. I planned to use the time as a stay-at-home writing retreat, just Boo and me and fiendish typing.

It was spectacular.

I decided I needed to be prepared but open when it came to this writing time. While I hoped my Klondike manuscript would be back in my possession, I couldn’t plan on that happening (It wasn’t. I worked on it anyway and am thrilled with what I’ve accomplished). My goal was to have a sense of how I wanted to use the four days, but not be so rigid that I missed a creative opportunity. I ended up splitting the time between two projects, one in its very beginnings and the other nearing its end.

I planned ahead about regular commitments and how I’d handle them. For example, I got up at roughly the same time I would have had my family been home. I kept my Thursday running date and attended church on Sunday. But I made room for flexibility, skipping the gym on Friday and going to a book signing Saturday afternoon. As for meals, I pulled a few things out of the freezer, cooked twice (with leftovers for when my family returned), and even ordered pizza one night.

Most importantly, I knew I needed to have realistic, relaxed expectations while still committing to hard work. I am not a fast writer and never will be. With four days stretching before me, it would have been very easy to convince myself I’d do super-fantastic, out-of-character things, like write 10,000 words a day. Not happening, ever. Instead I focused on these things:

  •  I decided not to serve my ego (those 10,000 words) or my anxiety (worry I wouldn’t accomplish anything), but simply show up and enjoy the work.
  •  I told myself it was more important to be productive instead of producing. (In other words, I didn’t have to have loads to show for all the time I put in. Creativity isn’t always something that can be measured. I’m learning to be okay with this.)
  • I strongly believe that every writing moment teaches me. That makes it worth it, whether it’s eventually cut or kept, whether it sells or doesn’t.

If I ever have the opportunity to do this again, I hope I can enter in with the same mindset and experience the same satisfaction. The writing life is one pretty wonderful thing.


Sunday will be the last day readers may take my blog survey. If you have a few minutes, I’d love to hear what you think!

The post 6 Take Aways from a Stay-at-Home Writing Retreat originally appeared on Caroline Starr Rose

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23. Straight From the Source: Author Kate Hannigan on Writing Historical Fiction

Kate Hannigan writes fiction and non-fiction for young readers. She got hooked on historical fiction when she discovered a copy of The Thorn Birds on the tippy-top highest shelf when she was in seventh grade – clearly forbidden reading, which made it even better! She used to work in daily newspapers but now spends her time down the rabbit hole researching her next books. The Detective’s Assistant was named a 2016 Golden Kite Award winner from SCBWI, a Booklist “Best of 2015” pick, as well as a “Best of the Best 2015” book with Chicago Public Library. Visit Kate online at KateHannigan.com.

Detectives Assistant cover medium

Why is historical fiction important?

It’s a window into the past, and for children who are meeting historical figures for the first time in our books, it’s so important that we engage and inform as well as entertain. If a reader really takes to a historical fiction work, then that might open up a whole new world to them. They might dig deep into learning more about a particular era in history, or pursue more historical work. It’s very exciting!

What kinds of sources do you use? 

I try to do full-immersion research, and I tap from anywhere I can find material. Right now, for a new project, I have a couple documentaries I’m watching, stacks of library books (shhh, don’t turn me in, but I use FOUR cards for our public library; mine and my three kids’ cards), original writing or reporting when I can find it, as well as museum trips so I can see and absorb all I can.

For The Detective’s Assistant, I was wandering the Chicago History Museum when I saw their beautiful exhibit of Daguerrotypes. And I knew at that moment that a framed photo like I was seeing in the museum would play a part in my book.

To get a sense of the language of the times, I try to read books that would have been in circulation at the time my book is set. So for The Detective’s Assistant, I read books like Uncle Tom’s Cabin, which published in 1852 but would have still been read and discussed when my book is set in 1859. Sister Carrie, which came later, helped me understand the desperation a woman might feel moving to the big city and trying to fend for herself in the 19th century.

I found a copy of “Godey’s Ladies Book,” the popular magazine of the 1850s, for sale on eBay. So I got an 1856 copy and read what women in my book might have been reading. And newspapers! I am a former newspaper gal, so my heart is with newspaper research. The headlines, the way stories are presented, the language of the times: newspaper archives are a rich source of understanding the day to day living.

What are some obstacles writing historical fiction brings?

Sometimes the subject of our research has been obliterated by time. For the research into Kate Warne’s life, I had to rely on Allan Pinkerton’s writing. But the Great Fire that wiped out Chicago in 1871 destroyed Pinkerton’s detailed record-keeping of his operatives and cases. So what I could find of her was very limited.

What is your favorite thing about research?

It is endless! It’s like falling down a rabbit hole.

What’s your least favorite thing about research?

It is endless! It’s like falling down a rabbit hole!

What’s one of the most interesting things you’ve learned while researching?

There was a whole lot of Underground Railroad research in my book, as well as the buildup to the Civil War. And best of all, Abe Lincoln. I learned so many interesting things by reading so much about this era. I’d say the most interesting thing I read, among so many wonderful anecdotes, had to do with the connective tissue of Life.

People might already know this one, but it was fascinating to me to learn that Lincoln’s son Robert was once saved from grave injury or death by John Wilkes Booth’s brother, Edwin Booth, a popular actor. Robert Lincoln was waiting for a train in 1863 or ’64 when he was jostled by the crowd and fell into the gap between a moving train and the platform. Robert Lincoln recalled the incident later:
. . . the train began to move, and by the motion I was twisted off my feet, and had dropped somewhat, with feet downward, into the open space, and was personally helpless, when my coat collar was vigorously seized and I was quickly pulled up and out to a secure footing on the platform. Upon turning to thank my rescuer I saw it was Edwin Booth, whose face was of course well known to me, and I expressed my gratitude to him, and in doing so, called him by name.
Such a human moment – one individual coming to the aid of another. We know what transpired just a year or so later between Edwin’s brother and Robert’s father. It reminds me how our lives are all so closely intertwined. And it’s one of the reasons why I love history!

The post Straight From the Source: Author Kate Hannigan on Writing Historical Fiction originally appeared on Caroline Starr Rose

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24. On Writing


There is a “rule” that gets passed around a lot as advice for beginning writers. “You must write every day,” They say. Whoever They is. I never liked this rule. Instead, I say, “Write like it matters to you.” So that might mean you write every day or every other day or every weekend or maybe you write every day until you finish a project and then you take some time off. I don’t think you need to write EVERY SINGLE DAY of your WHOLE ENTIRE LIFE to be successful. That is a long held myth, and I think writers do themselves a disservice repeating it and passing it along as advice. It’s okay to let the field lay fallow for a while. It’s okay to sit and think. It’s okay to do nothing.
— Valerie Geary

Valerie is documenting the writing process from sale to publication on her Facebook page. I encourage you to follow along.


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The post On Writing originally appeared on Caroline Starr Rose

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25. Reflections on Morning Pages Three Months In


Last December a friend whose life circumstances had kept her from writing for quite some time mentioned she’d started Morning Pages. She was almost 100 days in, and for the first time in years had found she was looking forward to returning to the page.

For those of you unfamiliar with the practice, Morning Pages is a discipline developed by Julia Cameron, author of the classic how-to on creative recovery, The Artist’s Way. I’ve had a copy of the book for almost ten years, but have never read past the first few chapters. Listening to my friend talk about moving toward her work with new joy and expectation, I thought about trying The Artist’s Way again. Maybe I could use regular journaling as a discipline in my own writing life.

The book is meant to be read as a self-led course, one chapter a week. Participants commit to two things: the Artist Date, a weekly experience meant to fill the creative well (what Cameron describes as “assigned play”), and the Morning Pages, a three-page handwritten daily exercise meant to reconnect the artist with creativity.

While I haven’t always been consistent with my weekly reading (and even less so with the Artist Date), I have loved my own version of Morning Pages.* Three months in, the practice has become a key part of my day.

There are no rules about the writing. Because of that I’ve been free to use the exercise for anything. Sometimes I simply type out everything I’m thinking. The Morning Pages then become a place for me to process and set aside the thoughts I might not have known were bothering me. I also write about the things I want to accomplish or need to remember, an impromptu daily list of sorts. Other times I use the writing to prime the pump for my work later in the day. I’ve used it to brainstorm the last few lines in a picture book and as a place to figure out a revision plan of attack. This blog post, which has become the most popular ever in six plus years of blogging, started in one of those ten-minute sessions. Some mornings I write as I might in a traditional journal. And when I’m truly stuck, I keep my virtual pencil moving by typing one of Julia’s affirmations: I am competent and confident in my creative work (yes, this is a little corny, but it’s a good thing to “hear” myself say!).

Here I am, close to my own 100 days, so grateful for this new experience.

Do any of you write Morning Pages? I’d love if you’d share your thoughts in the comments below.


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* Ten minutes of typing on weekdays.

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