5 Things To Do When Studying a Magazine

Recently I decided to submit nonfiction to Higlight’s High Five, the Highlights magazing for children ages 2 to 6. I hadn’t submitted to this market for quite a while so I knew I needed to refresh my knowledge of the publication. Here’s how to do it.

Target a specific magazine through careful study.
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The first thing that you need to do is read. Read at least 6 consecutive issues of the magazine. Twelve is even better.

Pick and Choose

Next you select which types of pieces you want to write. Me? I paid special attention to nonfiction. The nonfiction pieces in High Five included articles, crafts, recipes, and motion pieces. I may decide to do crafts and recipes in the future but this time I was focused on the articles.

Reread Your Chosen Category

Once I decided which types of pieces I wanted to submit, it was time to reread those pieces in the published magazines. I was looking for possible mentor texts, pieces that I could study for pacing, vocabulary, transitions and more.

Type Them Up

Once you’ve found several potential mentor texts, retype them in manuscript format. No, you aren’t going to copy someone else’s text but you are doing this for a reason. As you type, you are going to notice things that you didn’t notice while reading. I noted the preferred ending for High Five nonfiction. I realized that the vocabulary and sentence structure created a higher reading level than I has assumed. Retyping an article is definitely the best way to study it.

Run an Analysis

Just what you choose to run will vary. I ran the mentor texts through ATOS. This give me reading level, word count, word length and sentence length.

It may seem like overkill to go through this much effort when submitting your work. But if you are targeting a specific market and trying to break in there, you need to know exactly what they want. Follow these five steps to create work that will suit what your target magazine publishes.


Horrible Reviews of Popular Books or Why Writers Need to Let Some Comments Slide

Even wildly popular books get bad reviews.
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How to put this kindly? Sometimes the feedback that people give is just off. Yet many of us take every criticism to heart. We need to learn to let things slide. After all, even popular books get awful reviews. How many of these titles can you figure out based on these 1-star reviews?

“Doesn’t set a good example. Could confuse children. All the photos are of David doing bad/naughty things. Seems like a bad example for my child. Why would I show my child how to destroy, hit or wreak things.”

“I’ve had this book for years and the kids like it, because I would have to put in alot of effort to make the book come alive, because the author does such a poor job with it.”

“Not impressed. Short and boring. My baby doesn’t like it and neither do I. There are better children book choices out there. I bought it because we are really into the cow moo sound, but it only has the cow once.”

“Bought it after my mother in law told me about it.
Not interesting, kind of silly. Doesn’t really teach much or anything.
It’s just about consequences maybe? But not really logical ones, it starts with the mouse asking for a cookie and it ends with the mouse asking for a cookie after he asked for a bunch of other related things in between.
Not my 3 years old faves.”

“I bought this based on some of the reviews I read which compared it to the Harry Potter series. That’s pretty misleading as far as I’m concerned. The problem here is not really with this first book of the series. It’s actually pretty enjoyable and well written. The real problems start to develope in book two and then become full blown in book three. If I were interested in blasting these from a religous standpoint, I’d say that portraying god as a senile, drooling idiot incapable of even walking on his own may be in poor taste for younger, impressionable readers. But I will leave that to others to debate. My complaint is that the first book draws you into what appears to be an interesting story and then steadly becomes increasingly boring, confusing, poorly written and just plain stupid through the next two books in the series. Unfortunately, you can’t just read the first book on it’s own.”

“I love adventure fiction (HUGE Harry Potter, Game of Thrones, Hunger Games etc. fan) and I heard PJ was as worshipped as the rest so I gave it a go. Although I loved the greek mythology stuff, the adventure wasn’t to my liking – too outlandish and disconnected. I think this is the first time I haven’t finished a series! You *will* like it if you enjoy books more like “Mortal Instruments” (City of Bones series).”

Answers below my signature. Scroll down.


No, David! by David Shannon

Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak

Moo Baa La La La by Sandra Boynton

If You Give a Mouse a Cookie by Laura Numeroff

The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman

The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan

8 Musts for a Cozy Manuscript

Paperback Hallowe'en Party : A Hercule Poirot Mystery Book
Agatha Christie is considered by many to be the first cozy author.

Yesterday I spotted an article on cozy characteristics in Novel Suspects. I was eager to see how my own manuscript scored.

Amateur Detective

In a cozy, the detective is an amateur with no formal training in detection, police work, or forensics. I scored 100% on this category. My detective was a teacher but has not been in the classroom for some time.


Although the article didn’t say that your amateur detective must be female, it did point out that this is the norm. The only cozy I’ve read with male detective was Christie’s Hercule Poirot. My detective? Female and a mom.

Career Steeped in Information/Gossip

Because the character is an amateur she needs a way to find things out. Often her job supplies her with a steady flow of information. This one is a problem. Not only is my protagonist without a career, she has just moved back to town. Although she grew up there, she isn’t “in the loop” when the story begins. This was a real challenge so her sidekicks supply much of the information. They are a pastor and a waitress.

Strong Community Feel

As the article explained, cozy mysteries are often series titles. The community is a rich part of these books and have to be someplace that readers want to visit again and again. I have a strong beginning here which I considered good enough for a passing score since this was only draft #1. (Ugh.)

Protag Active in Community

That strong community? The detective is an active part of it which brings her into contact with suspects and helps her find clues. Because my character has recently relocated, I need to do a better job of getting her where she needs to be.

Violence Off-Camera No Matter the Crime

Not all cozy mysteries deal with a murder. The crime can also be theft, blackmail or even arson. But the violence has to occur off screne because the emphasis is on the mystery and not the violence. I got this down on the first try.

Sex Off-Camera

Like violence, sex in a cozy only occurs off camera. And, yes, I failed at this but realized it was a failure before I had completed a full draft. I had to find another way for my character to find out that her husband was a busy boy. No walking in on the “crime.” That sound? That’s me breathing a sigh of relief.

No Swearing

This is another no no and while the swears are all pretty ho hum by today’s standards, I have to get rid of them. No worries there it will just take a little work on my dialogue.

So how did I score? 4/8 or 50%. Not great but they beauty of a first draft is that it is only a first draft. Most of this will be fairly easy to fix.


2 Reasons Fiction Requires Research

Monday I roughed out a new picture book. It was inspired by a comment a friend repeated. The comment was an excuse someone made for not getting something done. A ridiculous excuse. An over-the-top excuse. A perfect picture book line. From this line, I spun a Little-Red-Hen styled contemporary.

It all started when the bees arrived.
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Way back when I was a new writer, I believed that if I didn’t want to do research, I should work on fiction. Obviously this wouldn’t apply to historic ficiton but contemporary fiction? Certainly I can write contemporary fiction without a lot of research.

This morning, I researched bee keeping. Then I researched mountain lions, alligator snapping turtles, and timber rattlers. Why is so much research necessary to write fiction?

Details Enrich a Story

Sensory details, details of setting, details about things your character encounters all enrich the story. Without these details, you have a barebones outline. With these details, your story comes to life. But if you are going to include these details you have to get them right, because. . .

The Devil Is in the Details

If you want to tick a reader off, get something wrong. Timber rattles eating eggs would annoy any reader who knows about these pit vipers. Annoy your readers too much and they will probably stop reading. They may also drop you a testy note. An avid reader I know told me last week that she was going to write an author whose ebook she had just finished. The author had gotten four phrases wrong, substituting similar sounding words. If you write “get your boat” instead of “get your goat,” you had better have a really good reason for doing so.

Whether you are writing something short like a picture book or a longer novel, you need to give your readers enough detail to bring the story to life. That detail may very well require research even if you aren’t writing about bee keeping, mountain lions, alligator snapping turtles and timber rattlers.


39 Books to Place Beneath the Tree

Books make great gifts! Photo by NastyaSensei on Pexels.com

Whether you are looking for a book to read between now and then end of the year or a book to give as a gift, here are 39 books I highly recommend. I’ve culled these titles from the list of 185 books that I’ve read this year. They aren’t all new but many are.

Because much of my writing is for young readers, I’ve split the list into Books for Young Readers and Books for Adult Readers. That said, adults will enjoy many of the books on the first part of the list. I know I did.

The young readers list is further divided by age (picture book to young adult). The adult readers list is divided by genre.

Books for Young Readers

Picture Books:

Dandy by Ame Dyckman

Bruce’s Big Storm by Ryan Higgins

We Don’t Eat Our Classmates by Ryan Higgins

Drawn Together by Minh Le

We Are Water Protectors by Carole Lindstrom

Pies from Nowhere by Dee Romito

Leave It to Abigail by Barb Rosenstock

Home in the Woods by Eliza Wheeler

When Jackie Saved Grand Central by Natasha Wing

Middle Grade:

Prairie Lotus by Linda Sue Park

Young Adult:

Turtles All the Way Down by John Green

Elatsoe by Darcie Little Badger

Wilder Girls by Rory Power

American Boys by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely

Cemetery Boys by Aiden Thomas

Books for Adult Readers


Upright Women Wanted by Sarah Gailey

Echo in Onyx by Sharon Shinn

Echo in Emerald by Sharon Shinn

Echo in Amethyst by Sharon Shinn


The Night Watchman by Louise Erdrich

Horror/Thriller (a lot more atmosphere than gore):

The Chill by Scott Carson

When No One is Watching by Alyssa Cole

The Institute by Stephen King

The Silent Patient by Alex Michaelides

Violet by Scott Thomas

The Other People by C.J. Tudor


Death by Dumpling by Vivien Chien

A Deadly Inside Scoop by Abby Collette

Flipped for Murder by Maddie Day

This Side of Murder by Anna Lee Huber

Scones and Scoundrels by Molly MacRae

A Study in Scarlet Women by Sherry Thomas

The 7½ Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle by Stuart Turton


The Line Becomes a River by Francisco Cantu

Hollywood Park by Mikell Jollett

All You Can Ever Know by Nicole Chung

So You Want to Talk about Race by Ijeoma Oluo

I’m Still Here: Black Dignity in a World Made for Whiteness by Austin Channing Brown

The Splendid and the Vile by Eric Larson

The Golden Thread by Kassia St. Clair


Coffee and Crushes at the Cat Cafe by Kris Bock

Kittens and Kisses at the Cat Cafe by Kris Bock

If any of you have a book that you would like to recommend, be sure to add it in the comments below!


5 Ways to Recharge

Plague doctor

Last week I saw an article about 7 things to avoid doing when you are stressed. Honestly, I was a little surprised that people needed to be told not to drink to excess and spend days at a time in their pajamas. It seemed like it might be more beneficial to tell people what to do.

Check Something Off

It feels like a lot of 2020 has beeen pretty futile. You plan for a birthday and your area goes on lockdown. Vacations? Nope. When so much seems out of your control, check something off your to do list. We painted out patio roof supports. I’m also cleaning out various cabinets and cartons. Check, chunk, check.

Do Something Creative

Me? I like to do handwork. I made those afghan squares and the amigurumi plague doctor. Yeah, that seemed like a no-brainer in 2020. I have a friend who quilts. Another friend beads. My brother-in-law gardens.

Afghan squares

Spend Time with Friends

We may not be able to meet face-to-face but get together with your friends. This coming week, I’ve got a critique group meeting and a mystery group meeting. I’m looking forward to both. My son games online with his friends. Pick up the phone and call a friend or text them. Connect!

Consume Media

Some people like dramas or adventure movies. I like to laugh but I don’t often watch straight-up comedies. I like mysteries with humor. My husband and I have been watching Death in Paradise. My son likes animated series. Laughing really is an amazing way to recharge!

Plan Something for Someone Else

Plan something? In 2020? Yes, in 2020. But keep it do-able. I’ve been texting my cousins and ordering books for their kids for Christmas. I love helping young readers find books. I’ve introduced half a dozen kids to The Dot, Mother Bruce, and Olivia.

Whether you have an ongoing project or want to start something new, spend some time over the next couple of days recharging your creative batteries. That way you’ll be ready to write when Monday comes around.


Happy Thanksgiving

For those of you who celebrate, I’d like to wish you a Happy Thanksgiving.  It goes without saying that 2020 will be a different kind of Thanksgiving for most of us.

That said, we still have so many reasons to give thanks.  My husband is working from home – we now share an office.  But he is working.

My son is once again employed.  He’s been out of work for several months but is not tutoring.  It is online but it is for the college.  So he gets paid to hold office hours and to make tutorial videos.  He’s pretty jazzed and I know it is something he does well.

Me?  I interviewed for an exciting opportunity yesterday.  I’ve got two nonfiction pieces to finish up this weekend for High Five.  I’m also working up a new class and working on that middle grade science fiction novel.

2020 has been tough but my family is still blessed.  I hope you, my writing friends, are well and have many reasons to give thanks.


Celebrate Thanksgiving with Joy Harjo: Poet Laureate

Good news! Joy Harjo, the US poet laureate, has been given a third year to serve in this position. This was just announced by the librarian of congress. The hope is that at some point next year she will be able to once again hold readings at various points throughout the US. Her main duty is to champion poetry.

The project through which she’s chosen to do this is “Living Nations, Living Words,” in which indigenous poets and their work create a map of the US. Says Harjo about this project, “I want this map to counter damaging false assumptions—that indigenous peoples of our country are often invisible or are not seen as human. You will not find us fairly represented, if at all, in the cultural storytelling of America, and nearly nonexistent in the American book of poetry.”

Click through here to see the map. Select a highlighted location and click through to hear the poet from that area read and discuss their work. My favorite? Laura Tohe reading “Within Dinétah the People’s Spirit Remains Strong.” I have to admit that part of what I love about it is that it isn’t written exclusively in English. When we traveled through New Mexico, I loved flipping through the radio stations and catching stations broadcasting in, in addition to English, Spanish, Dine, and other indigenous languages. It was a powerful reminder of our national reality.

I also really liked Layli Long Soldier reading “Resolution 2.” With this piece, it was the cadence that drew me in. It is completely different from Tohe’s piece which is appropriate. The similarities come in that each poem in the collection tells about the realities of indigenous life. The poems come together to form a tapestry of indigenous US peoples.

Take some time to explore.


3 Things to Remember about Backstory

Give us backstory, but avoid the info dump.
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Unless your story starts the moment your character is born, they have backstory. Backstory is their background, what happened to them before the start of your story. Anything that is in your character’s past is part of their backstory. Keep these 3 things in mind as you work this backstory into your work-in-progress.

Need to Know

Feed this information out bit by bit. When your reader needs to know why the character hates Christmas or won’t blow out birthday candles, give just a little bit of information. Since the year Mario waited for his mother for four hours beside the Christmas tree at the mall, he has wanted nothing to do with tinsel or egg nog.

Don’t give the reader the whole massive story at once. When you give a large amount of backstory at one time, this is called an info dump. Info dumps stop the forward momentum of the story. Once this momentum comes to a halt, it is hard to get things moving again. Readers wander off.

If you don’t want a massive tell all, what information do you give?

Shapes Behavior

Share information that shapes behavior. This could mean information that causes your character to hate something or love it beyond all reason. There is a reason that the only acceptable birthday cake in my mind is chocolate with chocolate icing. And not a bakery cake. I don’t care if it is a mix, but you need to bake it.

Why? That would be a bit of backstory to slip into my story. But as you add backstory, beware.

Avoid the Maudlin

Maudlin backstory is anything that is tearfully sentimental. Things that are over the top or just keep piling on “all that is awful” may come across as maudlin. This is especially likely when you tell the reader about your character’s horrible childhood before they care about the character. Let us love him before we see his tendency to be pompous. Then you can let us know that his parents cut him down every chance they got. His tendency to brag will make sense.

Backstory is essential if your reader is really going to get to know your character. But remember that it is like salt. A little bit goes a long way.


3 Things You Need to Know about Inner Dialogue

The things your character says are dialogue. The things she thinks are inner dialogue. If inner dialogue isn’t part of your fiction toolbox, you need to find out why inner dialogue matters and when to use it. The why is fairly easy.

Make sure your character’s inner dialogue is more than just chatter. Photo by Sandy Torchon on Pexels.com

Inner dialogue is a great way to tell your reader how your character feels about something. Becca couldn’t believe she had wrecked her brother’s brand new car. He had worked for months to make the downpayment. All that work gone in a matter of minutes. Yet again she had let him down and this time she’d done it in a big way.

But the key to making it work is to dwell on her more important thoughts. In yoga, a mind that wanders is called a monkey mind. Jon, in my class, says I have a barrel of monkeys mind. He is not wrong. In a matter of seconds I can note the sound of rain, wonder if we have any more of the good coffee at home, and remember that I need to put the laundry in the dryer. But really? Who wants to know about the inane chatter of my monkeys? No one.

Instead, stick with things that matter to the story and that your reader can find out only by being told. This can include what the character wants (goals), why she wants it (motivation), and the stakes. Use the inner dialogue to give your reader important information about the character. Don’t just tally a higher word count. Make it matter!

For a really good list of types of information you can share through character thoughts, see Mary Kole’s Writing Character Thoughts. This is something I’ve been giving a lot of thought because my critique group is always asking me “How does your character feel about this?” Clearly, I need to make sure that the inner dialogue I include is meaningful and not just chatter.