One Writer’s Journey

October 21, 2014

Horror: More Than Blood, Guts and Goo

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:43 am
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HorrorRecently, a friend of mine wrote a horror short story.  Did I want to read it?

My son is on a serious zombie kick.  In the name of mother and son bonding, I have suffered through an entire season of the Walking Dead.  Never mind that I love Zombieland.  Horror freaks me out.  I may agree to watch it with you but someone will have to hold my hand and it will not be a pain free experience.  Did I want to read her story at home by myself on a perfectly sunny day?  Wait?  Isn’t that when the walkers come?

I hemmed and hawed my way into an embarrassing pause.

“Really, it isn’t Stephen King horror.  It’s more like what I used to write.”

This friend doesn’t particularly enjoy tormenting so I recovered enough to agree and soon found myself immersed in a non-gross horror story.  It was amazing.  Afterwards, we discussed the difference between old-style atmospheric horror and new-style gooey, pustulent horror.

In the old type of horror it is all about atmosphere.  How can you set your story up so that the reader is more than a little uncomfortable and expecting something that goes bump, glop or yuck in the night?  They expect it, but the details you provide aren’t necessarily graphic.  This is the gross and disgusting viewed through slightly parted fingers. Think Poe.  His stories are wharped and weird and offputting, but they aren’t particularly repulsive.

You build the horror by choosing creepy details ranging from the fall of light to the creak of a floor board or the closing of the door.  You include details that can be described in a creepy way.  Lace might be web-like, wind groans, and a cellar smells like the freshly turned earth of the grave.  Okay, that’s most likely heavy handed but I hope you get the point.  You can write horror without the ick.

Who is your favorite writer of bump in the night, creepy horror?


October 20, 2014

Research: Gathering Facts and Eying the Competition

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:07 am

Book searchWhether you are writing fiction or nonfiction, both require research.  The problem is that if you aren’t doing two types of research your writing may be in trouble.  You need to do both the research required to write the piece and research on the competition.  I’ll explain this using some of my recent work as an example.  As I’ve mentioned several times recently, I’m writing about Pearl Harbor.  Obviously, this means that I’m gathering lots and lots of information on Pearl Harbor.

But I also need to have an eye for my competition.  What is already out there?  What exactly did they cover?  What did these books do well and, perhaps more importantly, not so well?

When I’m researching the competition, I always start with an Amazon search.  In this case, I would do a book search on “Pearl Harbor.”  Maybe you’re more industrious than I am but that search yields 4,923 titles.  I don’t want to pick through all of them to see what the competition is up to so I need to narrow it.

When your search results come up, you’ll see a column of categories to the left.  Under BOOKS> there is “see all 23 departments.”  Click that.

When I did this for my Pearl Harbor book search, it gave me three children’s books choices — Military Books, 1900s American Historic Fiction, and American History of 1900s.  I would look at first Military Books with 48 books and then American History of 1900s with 35 books.  There is probably overlap in these two categories but going through 83 books total is a lot easier than going through 4,923.
For whatever reason, your category choices aren’t always the same when you do an Amazon book search.  When I did a search on World War I and then click to see all departments, I get one choice for Children’s Books.  I’m not sure why it varies from topic to topic but there you have it.
If you aren’t taking the time to research your competition, you may be writing a book almost identical to one already on the market.  Avoid this by doing some research and making your book 100% unique.

October 17, 2014

Fueling the Creative Fire

classesWhat do you do to recharge your creative battery?

I’m currently taking my 3rd massive online class.  A lot of writers that I know take classes about writing or literature, but that isn’t the route that I go.  I’ve been taking classes about science.  Although I like to about science topics, I’m also taking them simply for the pleasure of learning about a topic I love.

I sit here and listen to the video lectures while I knit.  I answer the questions found throughout the lectures and examine the scanned fossils.  When I’m done with the lectures for the week, I take the quiz.

Yes, I’m learning things that I can use in my writing.  No, I’m not planning a book on dinosaurs although that would be great fun.  But one of the lectures had a lot of information on what we KNOW about dinosaurs vs what we INFER.  When you test a hypothesis through computer modeling or experiments, you can prove what was not possible more easily than what was.  For instance, scientists can learn whether or not specific pachyosephelosaurus could have butted heads like rams without shattering their skulls or giving themselves brain damage.  Do scientists know that they did this?  Nope.  They know that they could have done it.

If, on the other hand, their skulls were too fragile, scientists could have disproven the point.

Yeah. My sister doesn’t care either but its the sort of thing that makes me giddy.  Yeah, I’ve always been a little strange.  But this is the sort of thing that is so hard to get across to young readers when you write about science.  What a fun way to explain the limits of a theory!

I’m taking a class on dinosaurs. What class would you want to take just for the joy of learning?  It might not feed directly into your wirting but it might enrich it in unexpected ways.


October 16, 2014

Research: How Do You Know When You’ve Done Enough?

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:39 am
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The research for a project on a Missouri cave started with only two books.  I'm still not sure how many more I will need.

The research for a project on a Missouri cave started with only two books. I’m still not sure how many more I will need.

One of the questions that I hear most often from new writers is “how do you know when you’ve done enough research?”  You have to do enough to not only find your facts, but verify your facts.  Just how much this will take varies depending on what you are writing and how long the finished piece will be.

When I researched my book on the Ancient Maya, I didn’t think I would ever find enough material.  I spend two weeks reading, reading and reading some more.  Everything I read felt new and strange and . . . vast.  Reading took forever because I took pages and pages of notes per source.

Eventually, I noticed that I was finding only a few new facts per source.  Sometimes I was writing things down not because the information was new but because I could use source X to verify source Y.

This was when I realized that I had done almost enough research.  Almost.  I had enough to start writing but as I wrote I would reach places in the text where I couldn’t finish a sentence.  Or I couldn’t provide the detail needed to bring a scene to life.  I’d highlight this places in the rough draft and then go back and do a bit more research.  Sometimes I could find the information in a source I already had on hand.  Sometimes I would do an article search.

Whenever I find information that seems out of step with the other material that I’ve found, I look for additional sources.  Is this simply something that few people have written about?  Or is it controversial?  Or just plain wrong?

To figure this out, you need to find the most recent sources possible.  Even if your topic is history, you need to find recent sources.  Last week I read that the government has just declassified documents that have to do with Ben Franklin and the American Revolution.

How much research do you need to do?  Enough to completely understand your topic.  For my Maya book, I collected 51 sources.  It took that many to create a solid manuscript on the topic.  Will you need this many for everything you write?  No, but sometimes you will need even more.  Research until you can’t find anything new.  As you write, research to fill in the gaps.  You may be surprised at how much work you need to do but if you love the topic, it won’t actually feel like work.


October 15, 2014

Nonfiction vs Historic Fiction

Fact or fiction? Whichever path you chose, tell a fantastic story.

If you write about history, you’ve probably had this happen.  You’ve found an amazing true story. But when you try to find the sources that you need to create a winning piece of nonfiction, they just aren’t there.  You can find the story repeated time and time again, but not the primary sources that prove to you, and your editor, that this event really did happen.

So what do you do?  Many of us make the choice to shelve the project, but there’s another choice.

Write it up as historic fiction.  That’s what Mac Barnett did with President Taft Is Stuck in the Bath.  What?  I can hear you shouting about this already.  That story is true!  You’ve heard it time and time again and that isn’t surprising because it is a great story.  Imagine the President stuck in a bathtub!

But when Barnett did his research, he found orders for various oversize tubs that Taft had installed.  He found photos.  He even found a newspaper story about Taft overflowing a tub and soaking the people in the dining room on the floor below.  But Taft stuck in the tub?  It’s a great story but the sources just weren’t there so Barnett did what great story tellers do.

He told the story.  He used cummulative story telling with one person after another coming in to help.  He used exageration to wacky effect — we’ll just blow the tub up with a little dynamite.  The result is a marvelous slapstick story about a stuck President, an ambitious Vice-President and an oh-so-patient First Lady.

In his author’s note, Barnett concedes that his book is a work of fiction, he explains about the sources and the lack thereof, and he also reveals why he wrote it up anyway . . .

Because it is a great story!

And, whether we are writing nonfiction or fiction, shouldn’t that be our goal?  If you can’t find the resources that you need to write a piece of nonfiction about a historic event, write up a great piece of historic fiction.  In the author’s note, tell the readers what you’ve done.  And then you can offer to do classroom visits on fact vs fiction, opinion vs truth.


October 14, 2014

Meeting a Deadline

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:42 am
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deadlineIn a recent post about Prioritizing My Writing I wrote about getting a new assignment from Red Line to write a book on Pearl Harbor.  This means that I have 8 weeks to research and write 14,500 words on the attack at Pearl Harbor.  I get a lot of questions about how I get it done on such a tight deadline.

Research is step 1.  Because it may take up to a week for things to come in to my local branch, my first step is to use the library’s online catalogue and request everything to do with my topic.  This brings in a stack of books and DVDs.  I still prefer to do as much paper research as possible because I retain and mentally process the material that much better when it is on paper, but I don’t limit myself to paper.

After I request the books, etc., I use the library’s online periodical database and search for articles on the topic.  I save everything that I find as a PDF that I can then read at my treadmill desk.

Last but not least, I comb through my shelves here are home.  Every topic that I’ve been assigned so far can be found on my own bookshelves.  I may not have a lot but I have something.  I read these pieces and the articles while I wait for the books to arrive.

Reading and taking notes takes a lot of time.  I read until the material gets repetative.  I may not have everything that I need, but I have enough to get started.  I arrange my notes by topic and use this to create my outline.

I outline the book and rough out the first chapter.   Once I have a draft of chapter 1, I can flesh out the research for that particular chapter.

The outline and chapter 1 are always due before the rest.  Once I turn that in, I get to work writing the rest of the chapters.  Yes, even without any feedback.  By the time I hear back, I can have about half of the book drafted.  I don’t bother to fix what I’ve written but I do paste the comments/directions into my text.  Then I finish the draft and working from these comments do my first rewrite.  After that, I do one more rewrite before printing it off for my husband to read.

It may not be pretty toward the end, but this is how I manage to do the research, more research, a draft and two full rewrites in two months.




October 13, 2014

RIP Zilpha Keatley Snyder

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:38 am
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My first Zilpha Keatley Snyder read including this cover art.

I’m sad to report that last week children’s publishing lost a luminary with the death of Zilpha Keatley Snyder.  I never met Snyder but I remember, way back when, reading The Headless Cupid.  Snyder was the first author to thoroughly creep me out while also forcing me to keep turning the pages.  I had to know how the story ended!

Snyder ultimately published more than 40 books including historical fiction, contemporary YA, fantasy and science fiction.  Three times she earned a Newbery Honor for The Egypt Game (1967), The Headless Cupid (1971), and The Witches of Worm (1972).

Snyder’s most recent novel was William’s Midsummer Dreams about a young actor and a production of . . . I’m sure you can figure that part out!

If you’ve never sampled Snyder’s books, pick one up at your local library.  With 40 plus books, including several in electronic formats, to choose, you will find something that suits your taste.


October 10, 2014

Call for Submissions: Fun for Kidz

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:31 am
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Fun For Kidz MagazinesIt seems like a lot of magazines are updating their theme lists.  Fun for Kidz, which pays 5 cents a word, has also updated their themes. In addition to Fun For Kidz magazine, this group includes Boys’ Quest and Hopscotch.  

Unlike many publications, this group updates their themes as they accept submissions.  The themes for which they currently need pieces are:

For Hopscotch:  

Unique and Unusual, publication date April 2015.

Sports, publication date June 2015.

Frogs, Toads and Salamanders, publication date April 2017.


For Boys’ Quest:

Sports, publication date Feb. 2015.

Fun with words, publication date Aug. 2015

Rocks, publication date December 2015

Communication, publication date April 2016

Summertime, publication date June 2016

Unique Careers, publication date December 2016



For Fun for Kidz:

Imagination, publication date January 2015

Healthy Fun, publication date May 2015

Dollars and Sense, publication date July 2015

Cooking Fun, publication date Sept. 2015

Camping, publication date May 2016

Water Sports, publication date July 2016

Grandparents, publication date November 2016


Visit their web site for complete guidelines and information on how to submit your work.


October 9, 2014

The Kirkus Prize

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:20 am

Last week, the Kirkus Prize announced the nominees for its inaugural slate of nominees in fiction, nonfiction, and young readers’ literature. The winners will receive $50,000 each and will be announced at an awards ceremony in Austin, TX on October 23, 2014.  Books that received a Kirkus star are automatically placed on the list and then winnowed down to the final nominations.

I don’t know if any of the other prizes include a cash prize, but I have to admit that $50,000 caught my attention.

There are 6 nominees in the young readers category:

Picture Books
The Right Word: Roget and His Thesaurus by Jen Bryant and Melissa Sweet (Eerdmans)
Aviary Wonders Inc.: Spring Catalog and Instruction Manual by Kate Samworth (Clarion)

Middle Grade
El Deafo by Cece Bell (Amulet/Abrams)
The Key That Swallowed Joey Pigza by Jack Gantos (Farrar, Straus & Giroux)

Young Adult
The Story of Owen, Dragon Slayer of Trondheim by E.K. Johnston (Carolrhoda Lab)
The Freedom Summer Murders by Don Mitchell (Scholastic)

As much as I read, I have to admit.  I’ve read exactly zero of these titles.  0.  Zilch.  Nada.  None.  Not sure what this says about me and my reading but I’m a tad red in the face.

Have any of you read any of these books?  If so, which is your favorite?



October 8, 2014

Call for Submissions: Cobblestone Magazine

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 12:23 am
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CCall for Submissionsobblestone is the Cricket group’s history magazine and they’ve updated their theme list.  Upcoming themes and their query deadlines are:

  • Oklahoma’s Spiro Site (10/15), due 11/1/14
  • Little-known Civil War Heroes (11/15), due 12/2/14
  • Wild West Shows (1/16), due 1/2/15
  • Angel Island (2/16), due 2/3/15
  • Revolutionary Women (3/16), due 3/3/15
  • Man-Made Marvels (4/16), due 4/1/15
  • National Parks and Conservation (5/16), due 5/1/15
  • Olympics (7/16), due 6/1/15

Here is what they use in Cobblestone.  

Feature Articles  of 700-800 words including in-depth nonfiction, plays, first-person accounts, and biographies.
Supplemental Nonfiction of 300-600 words including subjects directly and indirectly related to the theme. Little-known information a plus but don’t overlook the obvious.
Fiction of up to 800 words including authentic historical and biographical fiction, adventure, retold legends, relating to the theme.
Activities of up to 700 words including crafts, recipes, woodworking, or other projects. Sketches and description of how activity relates to theme should accompany queries.
Poetry of up to 100 lines.
Puzzles and Games but no word finds.  Crossword and other word puzzles or mazes or picture puzzles relating to theme.

Queries must include a cover letter, an outline and a bibliography.  For details, read the full Cobblestone submission guidelines.


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