One Writer’s Journey

November 15, 2019

Author Copies: Stem Cells

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 5:18 am
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Look what showed up in the mail on Wednesday!

As much as I love writing science topics for young readers, it is tricky. First, I have to find accurate source material. With this book, this was trickier than it should have been.  I’d type “stem cell therapy” into Google and get information on various types of gene therapy.  The information itself may have been accurate but it wasn’t the right type of therapy.

Then I had to figure out how to explain the science without simplifying it to the point that what I wrote was inaccurate. Fortunately, I have a friend who is a nurse.  He answered a lot of questions and proofed various passages for me, sometimes from the hospital!  I definitely owe a special note of thanks to Chris!

But it is worth it when you manage to put together a book that can help young readers understand a complex topic.  At this point, I’ve written about stem cells, physics, chemistry, astronomy, mathematics, evolution and rocket science.

I wonder what I’ll get to write about next?



November 14, 2019

Reading While Writing

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:22 am
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What do you read while you are working on a project?  And I’m not asking about your research.  I mean what types of books for young readers do you read.

You’ll note that I am assuming that you read young people’s literature.  That’s the best way to learn what the competition, you fellow writers, are up to but also an excellent way to learn and be inspired.

That said, sometimes I have to limit my reading.  It isn’t a problem when I’m working on a new picture book.  I can read any picture book that grabs my attention.

But when I am writing fantasy, I tend not to read other fantasy.  I’m not 100% certain why that is but I think it has something to do with voice.  So many fantasy authors have such strong, poetic voices.  When I read fantasy while writing fantasy, I find my own voice drifting.

Why is this? I’m not certain but I think it is because I lack confidence in my fantasy voice.

I’m confident in my nonfiction voice.  After all, I’ve published nonfiction so I can start writing something new and fall into my own voice fairly quickly.  No, it isn’t immediate simply because it usually takes me a “rubbish” sentence or two to hit my stride.  But that’s okay because I frequently don’t know how I want to start a manuscript until I know how I’m ending it.  It is easy enough to go back to the beginning and replace those “off” sentences.

I’m also confident in my picture book voice. It isn’t because I’ve published picture books, because I haven’t.  But I like to play with words.  Sometimes when I hit my stride while walking on the treadmill, I find myself working through the chorus on a new picture book project, playing with the rhythm of the language.

But when it comes to fiction, I’ve yet to develop this confidence.  What will it take?  The same thing it always takes in writing – practice, practice, practice.  Until then, I’ll have to watch what I read when I am writing older fiction.


November 13, 2019

NaNoWriMo: Half Way

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 2:56 am
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We are just about at the muddled middle, half way through NaNoWriMo.  Whether you are doing the traditional challenge (50,000 words/month) or you are a NaNoWriMo rebel and have set your own goal, we are just about at the halfway point.  Like me, you may be wondering if writing a fast draft is worth the effort. Do these manuscripts ever see the light of day?

Librarians are amazing people who often know what readers and writers need.  Last night I walked into my local library and saw this display all about NaNoWriMo and published books that were written during this fast draft challenge.  Here is a list of fast draft winners for you to check out.

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern.  It took Morgenstern three years and three NaNoWriMo challenges to pull this one off but it was well worth the effort judging by the many book clubs that have read her book.

Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen.  You can see it in the photo above.

The Beautiful Land by Alan Averill.  A best-selling fantasy novel.

Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell.  Rowell admitted she was unsure about the challenge.  This book is about twice the NaNo length but the content drafted during NaNo?  Most of it made it into the finished book.

Wool by Hugh Howey.  This one is also in the display above.

Three novels by Marissa Meyer:  Cinder, Scarlet, and Cress.  I love this series.  Love it. It too is pictured above but as a flyer, not the print books which are almost on in circulation.

The Forest of Hands and Teeth by Carrie Ryan. A YA fantasy.

As with so much of what we write, I don’t think the question should be “can something of value come out of NaNoWriMo?”  I think the question should be “am I going to learn to rewrite what I drafted?”

Because, really, rewriting is the key to good writing.


November 12, 2019

How to Create Suspense in Your Story

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 3:30 am
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As I work on my mystery during NaNoWriMo, I’m keeping my eyes open for any tips on how to lay in clues and create suspense.  I’m already fairly good at using cliff hangers to create suspense.  If you aren’t familiar with this term, a cliff hanger occurs when the author breaks a scene mid-action.  The heroine is dangling over the cliff.  Will she make it to the top?  You have to go to the next chapter (or whatever) to find out.

I’m less confident in my ability to use foreshadowing which is when you hint at something to come.  It may be as simple as mirroring something in a subplot that will later take place in the plot.  This could be an important item being lost or a missed opportunity.

But in one a diyMFA pre-Halloween posts, Savannah Cordova added three more ways to build suspense to my list.  The first of these was using flashbacks.  Often we think of flashbacks as a way to reveal what happened before the story takes place.  But a flashback can also, much like foreshadowing, hint at coming action.

Cordova also discusses creating what she calls ambiguous characters.  Thsi character can be an unreliable narrator, either someone who is intentionally lying or who has misinterpretted a critical event.  In my mystery, I have a character who while very sure of himself passes on a lot of incorrect information.  This may also be a character who lies about their identity.

The Writer’s Journey also discusses characters who while initially allies later betray the main character.  This could be because she has done something that goes against this person’s beliefs or simply because the person was too afraid to take a certain course of action.

I’m not sure how many of these techniques will eventually make their way into my mystery.  But I’m fairly certain that it won’t happen until the rewrite.


November 11, 2019

Why? What To Ask When You Get Stuck

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:27 am
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I set myself two goals for NaNoWriMo.

  1. To finish the beat sheet for my cozy.
  2. To write, including the beat sheet, 25,000 words.

And I was almost done with my outline when I got stuck.  Not only does my character need to solve the mystery, she also needs to make strides in deciding what she wants to do with her life independent from her children and husband.  I’ve been so focused on solving the external plot (cue the murder mystery) that I had totally forgotten about her own goals.

Never mind.  I’ll put that off until later.

But then something else started bothering me.  My murder victim is thorougly villainous.  In fact, although I do have a character stand up for him in two different places in the book, you have to wonder why.  He is so unlikable.  Why would she do this?  Clearly, I need to make him more complex and a good way to do that would be to give him some positive qualities.  Ugh.

Maybe I’ll go back to that first problem.

Fortunately, I had just read this post by Greer McCallister in which she discusses how asking herself WHY helped move her story along.  She needed to know why her character were doing certain things. Knowing why not only kept the plot flowing, it also gave the story more depth.

So I asked myself why my murder victim had gone from un-likable to hateful.  What kind of misery would lead to this?  The answer to that question gave me some insight into his relationship with his wife, his extended family and his community.

Next, I started asking myself why the murderer would kill him now? Why today instead of yesterday? The answer to this question not only led me to understand both of these characters better, it also gave my main character opportunities to change her life.

You don’t have to wait until you get stuck to ask yourself why.  But be prepared.  The answers you find to this question may change your story in some unexpected ways.


November 8, 2019

Voting is open for the 2019 Goodreads Choice Awards

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 4:33 am

On Tuesday, Goodreads posted the fifteen nominations in each of 20 categories for their annual awards.  They’ve been doing it for 11 years so I have to admit that some of my favorites didn’t make the nominations.  But that’s okay, you can write books in but that is possible only in this opening round.  This round lasts only through November 10th so don’t delay!

Out of 20 categories, only 4 focus on young readers — Young Adult Fiction, Young Adult Fantasy, Middle Grade and Children’s, and Picture Books.  The nominations in each of these categories are:

Young Adult Fiction

Young Adult Fantasy

Middle Grade and Children’s

Picture Book
There are some amazing books on these lists.  I voted on these four and several others and also wrote in several titles.  Be sure to click through here and vote.  You only have until November 10th!


November 7, 2019

Raising the Stakes: Tormenting Your Main Character

Okay, let me get a bit of fan girl gushing out of the way.  If you haven’t read Patron Saints of Nothing, read it.  Now!  This young adult novel is a lesson in how to plot a novel and how to torment your main character.

If you don’t know this novel yet, Jay is Filipino but grew up in the US.  He is finishing his senior year when he gets news that his friend and cousin was killed in the Philippines because he was involved in meth.  Jay doesn’t believe it and flies to the Philippines to discover what really happened.

Not only is the plot gripping but author Randy Ribay has done a top notch job tormenting Jay.  Be warned!  This post is basically one great big plot spoiler so proceed at your own risk.  Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

First things first, take an American teen and plop him down in the Philippines. Jay has only sketchy memories of life before moving to the US. He’s iffy on many Filipino customs and doesn’t speak the language.  Want to torment your character?  Make him look like he fits in but he can’t even understand what is being said around him.

Next, take away various things that he takes for granted.  Privacy?  Gone.  He’s been at his uncle’s less than a day and already someone has gone through his things and stolen treasured items.  Cell phone?  It may work while he’s in the city but that isn’t the case when you send him off to stay with his grandparents in a tiny village.  No cell and no understanding of the language because while he’s been picking up a bit of Tagalog, that isn’t what they speak.

Last and worst of all, disprove the assumption that brought him around the world.  As Jay learns about his cousin’s life, he learns that he was using drugs.  And the uncle Jay thought was implicated in his death had actually paid to keep him safe.

After reading this, I am definitely rethinking some elements of my mystery.  How can I turn everything upside down?  What assumptions can my character carry through the book only to have these assumptions disproved at the end.

I definitely have some work to do.


November 6, 2019

My First Write-In and Why I’ll Attend Another

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:38 am
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This weekend, a friend told me about a NaNoWriMo Write-in at her local library.  For those of you who have never attended a write-in, the idea is simple.  The library sat aside a meeting room for us to come write.  Five people gathered together and sat clicking away on their laptops or writing in note books.

Why bother with a write-in?  Sometimes it just helps to get away from your regular routine.  No one is ducking in to ask where their favorite jeans are or if you’ve done such-and-such yet.  When the writing gets tough, you can’t go do somethign else or at least not easily.  Besides, if you start playing a game on your computer, someone might notice.

Two hours of dedicated writing time in a special writing place worked.  I did two drafts of my picture book manuscript.  Is it done?  No but it is more writing than I’ve accomplished throughout the rest of the day.

I have to admit that I also went there to meet other local writers.  I already knew my friend, the organizing librarian.  And unfortunatey, I also met a shark.  For those of you who don’t know the lingo, a critique group shark is someone who makes sharp, biting comments.  Him I could have done without and because of him I was questioning going back next week.

But one of the other women asked me if I planned to come back.  “Your comment really helped me get going.”  It was good to know I had succeeded in encouraging someone.

And the other woman was looking for a critique group so I invited her to our group that meets tomorrow.  It was pretty awesome to meet two new-to-me writers.

Will I go back?  Definitely.

Check your local library and see if there are write-ins that you could join.  You may not make connections but even if you only get your writing done it is time well spent.


November 5, 2019

What is Writing?

What counts as writing?

This may seem like an odd question but think about it.  NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) encourages us to count only the words we write.  Word count is writing.  Period.

This is one of the big reasons that I’ve avoided NaNoWriMo although I am participating this year.  But, as a nonfiction writer, it seems twisted to count only words written when there is so much more than goes into my work starting with the research.  Maybe that’s why I was eager to read “Why Outlining Is Writing,”  a Writer’s Digest post by fellow nonfiction author S.C. Gwynne.

And, to him I say thank you because now I truly feel confident in saying that it is so much more than keying in words.

Writing starts when I first get an idea for a project.  I have to consider what I will include, what I will leave out and who my audience is.  Deciding on my audience can determine both what I include and what I omit.

I also have to do scads of research.  I often start by reading things like Wikipedia and Encyclopedia Britannica.  Yes, you read it here.  This helps give me a broad understanding of my topic or at least gives me an idea what I should start researching.

More often than not, I also do some kind of an outline.  That doesn’t mean that I include everything I’m going to write about but I do get the broad topics.  In the evolution books, I listed the animals I wanted to write a chapter about.  Reptiles included snakes, turtles, and crocodilians.  Mammals included horses, humans and whales.  I initially listed elephants but couldn’t find enough material for a strong chapter.

Outlining requires, more often than not, doing even more research.  And I’ll do still more when I start doing the writing because I won’t understand something well enough to describe it to my reader and off I go in search of a better explanation.

Have you noticed that I haven’t even discussed REwriting?  Obviously writing is a lot more than keying in that first draft. So when someone asks you how much you write every day, you might want to answer them in hours spent vs words added to the story.



November 4, 2019

100 Years of Children’s Book Week

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 3:24 am
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2019 marks 100 years of Children’s Book Week. Normally, this is celebrated for one week in the spring but given that this is a special anniversary, a second week of celebrations, November 4-10, was added in the fall.  This week focuses on engaging students at schools, libraries, and after-school programs.  To read more about this second week, check out this article from Publisher’s Weekly. 

Children’s Book Week is the longest running literacy initiative in the US.  This year’s slogan is  READ NOW * READ FOREVER.

Follow the link here to visit the Children’s Book Week sponsor, Every Child a Reader.   You’ll find the poster for this year designed by Yuyi Morales, book marks, and resources for teachers, librarians and bookstores.

What if, like me, you are an author?  What can you do?  Here are some suggestions.

Suggestion 1.  Visit your local library and check out some children’s books.  Go with tried and true favorites as well as new titles.

Suggestion 2.  Read.  You can read on your own or you can read aloud to young readers and prereaders.  Imagine the joy of turning someone else on to a great book.

Suggestion 3.  Now have some book-based fun.  This could mean doing a craft inspired by the book, writing a poem based on the book, or acting it out.  Discussions, songs, plays and more.  There’s no end to what you can do.  And then?

Suggestion 4.  Tweet about your favorite children’s books.  These could be books that you read as a child or books that you’ve read only recently.  Telling others what you love about these books will help them reach even more readers.

Obviously, I’ve kind of got a thing for children’s books but what good is it if we don’t share that love and develop new readers? Let’s celebrate!





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