One Writer’s Journey

August 22, 2014

Types of Poems

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:46 am
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Challenge yourself, and your reader, by exploring poetry types. Book spine poem, anyone?

Challenge yourself, and your reader, by exploring poetry types. Book spine poem, anyone?

What poem types do you know?  Educational publishers like activities that center on writing poetry.  Here are just a few of my poetry activities on

Book Spine Poem:  Every line in this poem comes from the spine of a book.  Not as easy as it sounds.

Sensory poem:  How many senses can you work into one poem?

Tanka poem:  At only five lines, this one is good for new poets.

Terse Verse:  The answer to a riddle comes in two rhyming words.

I’m not a poet, so when I write a poem-based activity, I often stick with shorter poems for younger students.  What can I say?  I know my limits.

But I also want it to be creative which means that I need to go beyond the haiku, acrostic or alphabet poem.  No, there is nothing wrong with these forms but it is harder to submit an original activity based on a well-known types of poetry.  That’s why, when it is time to brainstorm, I skim through lists of poetry types.  Here are just a few of the ones that I use:

50 poetic forms for poets.  This list is for poets so there’s no concern about what may or may not be too hard for young readers, or non-poet writers, to duplicate.

Types of Poetry.  Comare these two lists and you’ll see that they sometimes call one type of poem by more than one name.

Introduction to Poetry Types.   A list of over 100 types.

Only three lists but lots and lots of poems.  Have fun experimenting with something new!  I know I will . . . Joseph’s Star looks fun.




August 21, 2014

Message: Work it into your plot

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:36 am
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The very best fictional stories have a strong message.  Some touch on loyalty or family.  Others make us think about faith or forgiveness.

Whatever the message is we have to be careful how we deliver it.  Come on too strong and your work seems preachy.  The problem with this is that if you nag from the pages of your story and no one will want to read it.  It works best when your characters discover the message for themselves in the course of the story.

Merrie Haskell did an amazing job of this in The Castle Behind Thorns.  Admittedly, I might have been impressed because of the timing.  I read this book during the unrest in Ferguson, Mo.  I’m one town over.  My sister and her family live in Ferguson.  Quite frankly, a lot of people in our community need to read a book about letting go of anger.


On the surface, this is a retelling of Sleeping Beauty.  Sand has grown up in sight of the castle but no one goes there.  In fact no one pays much attention to it.  Then one day he wakes up in the fireplace in the main hall.  Only after a merlin and the princes “wake up” does Sand begin to unravel why he is there, what caused the brambles to grow up around the castle and why they are so dangerous.

The princess was killed, more or less by accident.  Her step-mother meant to put her into a deep sleep.  She tricked a servant into administering the potion.  The brambles arose from the girl’s grave because of the hatred she had for her step-mother.  Only by letting go of these feelings could the brambles be fully dispersed.

This is a novel, so obviously there’s a lot more to it than that but this is a lesson that the author could have shoved right in the reader’s face.  Instead, the reader meets the girl and learns of the harsh treatment she suffered at the hands of this woman as no one stood up for her.  But these two women aren’t the only ones holding onto anger and hurt.  Sand must begin mending things to get to the bottom of it all, both in the girl’s life and in his own.

Readers receive the message only through the plot.  Both plot and subplot support the same message.  Added together this is much more effective than tapping a twelve year old on the shoulder and telling her to let go and quit being a pill.

How can you work the message into your own story?  Read The Castle Behind Thorns and other books that do it well to collect ideas.


August 20, 2014

Rewriting vs Proofreading: Do you know the difference?

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:14 am
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Proofreading RewritingWriters need to know how to both rewrite and proofread their work.  One without the other is only half the job.  But to do both, you have to know the difference.

I always think of rewriting as working on the big picture.

This is when I fix plot and character and setting.  This is the time to solidify theme, work in concrete details and play with the word choice.

For picture books, it is when I make sure the piece is a fun read-aloud.  Are there enough spreads?  Does something concrete happen on each spread?  I also make certain that I haven’t done the illustrators job.

In nonfiction, I play with the introduction and the conclusion.  These are easier to craft once I know where the piece will begin and end.  I also smooth out transitions making certain that I get the reader from one sub-topic to another without any major bumps.

Rewriting is a lot of work in part because I may have to do it 6 or 10 times.  It all depends what I’m writing but whether it is a picture book or a review, I can only fix so much in one sweep.

Unfortunately many writers proof and call it rewriting.  Nope.  Sorry.  If all you do is shift a few commas and fix typos, that is not a rewrite.

Proofreading is the final polish.  This is when you fix spelling, grammar and punctuation.  Unfortunately, these itty-bitty errors can be hard to spot.  For more on how to do that, check out my post for today at the Muffin.



August 19, 2014

Call for Manuscripts: Appleseeds and Pockets

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:36 am
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Submissions AppleseedsHiSubmissions Pockets Everyone,

Two different theme-based calls for submissions.

The first is from Appleseeds.   As you know, Appleseeds is part of the Cricket group.  The magazine is theme based and one of the upcoming themes is still open for submissions.  The July/August 2015 issue will be titled Check Mate: Chess and Other Games.  This issue isn’t just about the games themselves but also about the people who play, win and make them.  The query deadline is 10/1/2014.

Feature articles run from 1 to 4 pages and include nonfiction, interviews and how-tos.  There are also a wide range of departments to explore.  Here is the list that I got from the guidelines:

  • Fun Stuff (games or activities)
  • By the Numbers (math activities)
  • Where in the World (map activities)
  • Your Turn (opportunities for children to take action)
  • Experts in Action (short profile of professionals)
  • The Artist’s Eye (fine or folk art)
  • From the Source (primary sources)

Before you submit to this publication, be sure to read the full guidelines.

The other call is from Pockets magazine which is owned by the Upper Room.

Their first open theme is Hope with a deadline of 09/01/2014.  This is an Easter based theme and will focus on how the knowing of a loving God helps us hope in spite of situations that appear hopeless.

The second theme is Family Challenges with a deadline of 10/01/2014.  The purpose of this theme is too look at the challenges that families face, including scheduling, siblings, rules and more.

Pockets publishes fiction and nonfiction from 600 to 1000 words.  These pieces should deal with situations faced by young readers.  Avoid talking animals and objects.  Biblically based stories must remain faithful to the Biblical account.  Poems should be 20 lines or less and either seasonal or related to the theme.

See their guidelines here. Good luck sending in your work!




August 18, 2014

Picture Book or Magazine

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:34 am
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picture book magazineEvery once in a while, someone brings a manuscript to critique and says “I’m not sure if its a picture book or a magazine piece.”  Until you know, you can’t do much more than rough it out.  Here are some key differences between picture books and magazine stories.

Picture books:

  • Printed in approx. 14 spreads.
  • Each spread must present a new action, emotion, combination of characters, setting or mood.
  • Each spread must include something to illustrate.
  • A picture book is meant to be read aloud.
  • Keep visual discription to a minimum.  This is the illustrator’s territory.
  • The illustrations tell part of the story.

Magazine stories:

  • Much more variable in length.
  • Can take place in a single setting.
  • You can use more dialogue than in a picture book (illustrators don’t want to painting talking heads).
  • You can be more discriptive.
  • Text has to convey the entire story because the illustrations won’t do half the job.

Picture books and magazine stories can both be written for similar age groups (preschoolers). They can be about similar subjects (animals or holidays or shapes).  They can both by mysteries or they can make you laugh out loud.

How they do it is going to vary depending on your form.  You might be able to rough the story out before you make a decision but you cannot take it to final until you know where you are going.



August 15, 2014

How-to Write like a Spook

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:07 am
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spookI’m not sure what I was expecting from the Directorate of Intelligence Style Manual and Writers Guide for Intelligence Publications, 8th Edition (2011).  Certainly the organization that calls their training base “Camp Swampy” or “The Farm” would come up with something . . . creepy but interesting.

Seriously, it’s just a style guide.  Think the Chicago Manual of Style with a somewhat less attractive cover.

That said, the organization obviously recognizes the importance of clear writing from research, to slant, to the actual scripting of the manuscript.

“The depth of our knowledge, the strength of our thinking, and the power of our words will ensure that our customers, from policymakers to operations officers, continue to rely on the Directorate of Intelligence.”

Wow.  Customers.  Maybe it is a little creepy after all.

Check it out here to see Agency protocal when writing indefinite numbers, foreign terms, and more.  An excellent resource if your protagonist inadvertently intercepts information meant for someone who may, or may not, be up to something.



August 14, 2014

Experts: Primary Sources that give you the Last Word on a Topic

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:11 am
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ExpertI’m working on a new nonfiction topic and, as usual, I’ve picked a tough one.  I say as usual because this is the second project I’ve done that features a large number of different animals.  Last time it included octopus, flounder, bittern, zorilla and jaguar.  This time, I’ve researched house flies, white-tailed deer, bull frogs and rats.

The problem with all of this animal research is trying to find accurate biology on either pest animals or game animals.  Scientists research exotics but things closer to home aren’t as “sexy” and don’t draw as much attention. A lot of the information that I do find is anecdotal or what I lovingly call folksy.  I need science with real research.  I know that’s narrow minded of me but it seems to make my editors happy.

Sometimes I think I have enough information until I try to write.  As I try to describe whatever process, I just can’t pull it together.  That’s when I know I don’t have enough information.  What to do?

  1. Do another search.  Usually I’ve refined my knowledge and can come up with better key words by now but that doesn’t always mean that I can find additional articles.  Still, I try.
  2. Look for a name.  Whether I’ve found 2 articles or 10, if my knowledge is incomplete, I need to find more.  I pull up the most helpful article and look for a name.  Who wrote the article?  Who did this person interview?
  3. Send an e-mail.  If the author of the helpful article was the expert, that’s who I e-mail.  If not, I look for people they might have interviewed.  In my e-mail, I introduce myself as a children’s writer.  “I’m not sure I understand this and I want to make sure that I don’t mislead my readers.”
  4. Wait.  Once I’ve sent out the e-mail, it’s time to work on something else.  If I haven’t heard from anyone in two or three days, I look for another person to contact but I’m always amazed by the number of busy researchers who want to teach kids about their topic.

Going to the experts is the best way for me to find the information that I need to create a clear explanation picture for my readers.  Experts always know more than they’ve written.  Fortunately, they are often more than willing to share.




August 13, 2014

CBC Projects Top Sellers

Childrens Book Council logoIf you want to know which books the Children’s Book Council thinks are going to be top sellers, check out their listing “Hot Off the Press.”  The books on the list have either recently been released or are forthcoming, but they are all books that the CBC predicts will make it big.  The exciting news for me?  My friend Darcy Pattison has a book on the August list.  You’ll find  Kell, The Alien, Book 1 in the Alien, Inc series in the first column.  Woo-hoo!

The complete August list, minus book descriptions, is as follows:

  • About Parrots: A Guide for Children by Cathryn Sill
  • Alfred Ollivant’s Bob, Son of Battle by Alfred Ollivant, in a new version by Lydia Davis
  • Aliens, Inc. Series, Book 1: Kell, The Alien by Darcy Pattison
  • Animal School: What Class Are You? by Michelle Lord
  • Blind by Rachel DeWoskin
  • Call Me Isis by Gretchen Maurer
  • Cast Away on the Letter A: A Philemon Adventure by FRED
  • Dash by Kirby Larson
  • False Future by Dan Krokos
  • Mira’s Diary: Bombs Over London by Marissa Moss
  • National Geographic Little Kids Look and Learn: Things That Go by National Geographic
  • Next Time You See the Moon by Emily Morgan with photographs by Tom Uhlman, NASA, Steven David Johnson, Judd Patterson, and
  • P is for Pirate by Eve Bunting
  • The Phoenix Files: Doomsday by Chris Morphew
  • The Witch’s Boy by Kelly Barnhill
  • yolo by Lauren Myracle

This whole thing has me jazzed because . . . well, look at who else is on the list.  Darcy is up there with Kirby Larson, Eve Bunting and Lauren Myracle. There’s a book from National Geographic.

That makes this a solid lesson in “the cream will rise to the top and some of that cream will be from independent presses.”  That’s right.  Darcy’s book is independently published.  Read more about her work here (Part 1 and Part 2).

But until then, let’s celebrate.  Woot!  Woot!


August 12, 2014

What Tools Do You Need to Write?

ToolsAsk 10 different writers and you’re going to get 10 different answers.  These answers will vary by equipment (PC, desktop, Mac, laptop, or tablet), program (Word or Scrivner) and even location (home office, coffee shop, dining room table or library).

Do you know what this variety should tell you?  That there is one thing and one thing only that you need to write your novel, article or poem.

You absolutely without fail must have your imagination.

Everything else is somewhat optional.  Really.  I mean it.  I prefer to work in my home office on my desk top.  No, it isn’t portable but I can shut the door and have some control over my environment.  That said, I’ve also drafted a picture book on Post-It notes, articles on a laptop in a dining hall and another book in a notebook on the tailgate of my SUV while my husband and son were shooting.

Mark Twain wrote with a fountain pen on paper at this desk.  Yes, the desk has extra fancy turned legs, but I doubt seriously that affected his productivity.

Rowling charted the amazingly complicated world of Harry Potter on loose leaf paper.  She didn’t have spread sheets or a computer.

Yes, certain environments are more conducive to writing than others but don’t let that by your reason for not writing.  Instead let your imagination pull you into your story and use it to spin something that is uniquely your own.  Maybe this time you’ll do it sitting in the park and the next time you’ll be at home in your kitchen.  As long as you have your imagination, you have what you absolutely must have to work.


August 11, 2014

Spoilers: Do they ruin the story or not

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:14 am
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SpoilerWhen I review a book, I try not to include spoilers, limiting plot comments only to the beginning and middle of the story.  What is the conflict and why is it so awful?

Personally, spoilers don’t freak me out.  I’m the person who likes print books best because, after reading two or three chapters, I can flip to the end of the book and read the last two chapters.  This doesn’t mean I’m going to stop reading the book – unless the ending ticks me off (I don’t want to see the ending coming in chapter 3).  I will still finish the story if I’m surprised by the ending and if I enjoy the author’s writing.

Yes, its a bad habit but it is also a habit born of reviewing books.  When I had to review 6 to 8 novels in one column, I knew I didn’t I wouldn’t want to review every book I read, but I didn’t have time to read 15 or so books cover to cover.

Still, I try not to spoil the plot for those who easily kerfuffle.  And, I also freely admit that this is me and books.  DO NOT SPOIL A MOVIE ENDING FOR ME.  Do not.  My feelings about that are completely different illogical though that may be.

Then I read a Discover Magazine blog post on spoilers.  A recent study shows that spoilers do not, as the name implies, spoil the story for those who have yet to reach the end.  Apparently, with the ending in mind, they are able to appreciate the clues carefully laid by a talented author so that the ending is satisfying but not entirely expected.  They believe it is the similar to the enjoyment that we get when we read an old favorite.

The author also points out that certain genres are more or less their own spoilers.  In a romance, you expect the couple to fall in love (or lust), be horribly seperated, and have to struggle to be together.  In a mystery, the detective will solve the crime.

I get it, but don’t tell me how the movie ends.  I may love it enough to watch it more than once, but at least the first time, I want to be at least a little surprised.



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