One Writer’s Journey

September 25, 2020

Three Things to Consider for Your Story Setting

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 4:06 am
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Art Hill, Forest Park, St Louis, Missouri, Art Museum

Across the lagoon . . . a forest!

Tonight, I was chatting with a group of my fellow authors about mystery writing. They’ve all completed and published mysteries. I’m working on my first cozy.

One of the things we discussed was what annoys us enough to quit reading.  One woman mentioned that she grew up in New Orleans so when she read a mystery in which the character stares out the window at the hills of New Orleans, she put the book down. Apparently New Orleans has one hill.  It is manmade.

I had a similar experience reading a mystery when the body was found in the tree line beside the St. Louis Art Museum.  The author had done enough research to know the museum is located in Forest Park but not enough to know that the forest does not come that close to the museum.  Back in the library bag it went.  And that leads us to the #1 thing to consider when creating your setting.

1. If you don’t know this setting like the back of your hand, using it might be a huge mistake.

The devil is, as they say, in the details.  You can find a lot of information online and Google Earth is a huge help.  But if you’ve never been there you are taking a chance.  What looks like a hill on Google Earth, may be something else entirely.

2. Making a setting up is 100% legitimate.

If you are setting your story in a real city and you need it to take 45 minutes to drive across town, you are simply out of luck if it only takes 30.  The same holds true for a real building.  If you need three floors and no more, but the building you are setting your story in is only two, that’s going to be a problem.

The solution?  Create a location that is just as fictional as your story.  You can make the city as large and the building as tall as your story requires.

3. Even a fictional setting can half real-life components.

I didn’t want to set my cozy in the city where I live, but I am using certain buildings as locations in my setting.  A church and a historic school house that I’ve actually visited have found their way onto the page.  By migrating a real place into my story, I can draw on the details that I observed while singing in a Christmas program, helping set up a wedding reception, or attending a punch and cookie event.  These details will help my settings feel as real as the places that inspired them.

–SueBE

 

September 24, 2020

How-to Attend the National Book Festival

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 3:21 am
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Banner graphic promoting the 2020 National Book Festival

Wow!  This is the 20th birthday for the National Book Festival, put on each year by the Library of Congress.  I didn’t realize the event was this young.

Not surprisingly, given all that is 2020, this year the event will be 100% virtual and there is no cost to attend.  I’m avoiding the F-word because that can alert various filters.

There are 120 authors taking part this year include Tomi Adeyemi, Jerry Craft, Jared Diamond, and more.  It is such an amazing list!  You can see it here.

All you have to do to take part is create a free Book Fest account.  Find that information here.  There are videos that you can watch at any time and also live author discussions and so much more.

If you aren’t familiar with how the festival usually works, the set up is being recreated virtually. There are a variety of stages, featuring different types of writing including but not limited to Children, Teens, Family, Food & Field, Fiction, Genre Fiction, History and Biography.

Among the new features being offered this year are timely topics such as Fearless Women, Hearing Black Voices, and Democracy in the 21st Century.  Another new feature includes offereings for children, teens and schools educating at home.  I have to admit that I’m excited about the Roadmap to Reading, which includes a list of “Great Reads from Great Places.” These 53 books reflect the literary heritage of all 50 states, DC, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

I hope you’ll find the time to explore what the Library of Congress is offering us all this year.  My first stop?  That book list!

–SueBE

 

September 23, 2020

4 Steps to Retelling a Classic

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 2:25 am
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Billy Goat, Goat, Horns, Horned, Goat Buck, Goat'S Head

My first retelling was the Three Billy Goats Gruff

I’m fascinated by retellings.  Here are 4 steps for tackling this kind of project.

Read, read, read.

It is always tempting to read a retelling and think “That’s not how I could re-work X.”  Instead of doing it that way, reread a few of your favorites.  Which ones really capture your imagination now?  Your taste may well have changed since you were 12 and that’s fine.  But you want to pick something you love know because you’ll be spending some serious time together.

Plot it out.

You don’t want your plot to copy the classic scene by scene but do jot down the major plot points you want to keep.  How would Romeo and Juliet procede if they met at a state fair?  A swim meet?  A tent revival?

Character creations

Now it is time to take a hard look at your characters.  You are going to need most of the main characters but secondary charcters and cameos can easily be altered.  You may end up changing character genders, combining characters or turning one of them into a drone (robotic not hive).

Props and settings

As you plan out your version of the book, think about the props and settings in the original. Which ones are important and need to remain? Can they be changed?  If so, how?  The ruby slippers might become a candy apple red moped.  In my 3 Billy Goats Gruff rewrite, the bridge just wasn’t going to work.  Where would my characters encounter the troll? This is a school story, so they cross his path in the cafeteria.

Figure out what features of the original are essential.  As you alter one thing, it will have a ripple effect.  Play around until you create a combination that works for you.  Then it is time to write!

–SueBE

September 22, 2020

3 Times Slang Can Throw You a Curve

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:22 am
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Idiomatic expressions are tricky.  Not familiar with that term?  An idiomatic expression is a phrase that means something other than the literal meaning of the words.  For example, when we call someone a bookworm, we aren’t calling them a book devouring bug.  We are saying that this person loves to read.  In Spanish, the phrase is rata de biblioteca – library rat.

Why does that matter?  Because it is item #1 on the list of “slang troubles.”

You Can’t Assume

You can’t assume that an English idiomatic expression can be translated word-for-word into Spanish or Portuguese, Malay or Farsi.  You actually need to find the parallel term if there is one.  Not every expression has a corresponding expression in another language.  You have to make sure you get it right and that’s a problem because . . .

The Devil Is in the Details

I’ve been reading contest entries lately as well as stories published online.  When you use slang or another idiomatic expression, make sure you get it right because it is going to stick out like a sore tongue when you get it wrong.  Do you see what I did there?  If you don’t read very much, you may mishear a common phrase.  When you write it down, your slip is going to show.  And last but not least . . .

A Little Goes a Long Way

A daddy-o here and there in dialogue makes your character sound jazz-appropriate.  But if he uses this word in every other sentence, it is going to sound like either the character or you the author is trying too hard.  This was something that K.M. Weiland mentioned in her post on slang in dialogue.  One of the worst cases of this I’ve ever seen was a New York author writing a story set in the American South.  The character’s sounded like characachers.

When using slang, idioms and period expressions, remember that a little bit goes a long way.

–SueBE

 

September 21, 2020

Book Covers: The Impeachment of Donald Trump and Coronavirus: The COVID-19 Pandemic

Saturday I got the author’s copies of my two most recent books: The Impeachment of Donald Trump and Coronavirus: The COVID-19 Pandemic.  I just had to be a little silly when we took the photo.  It just felt a little ridiculous to smile and look happy while holding these two titles.

When I turned in the final chapter of the coronavirus book, that was it.  I didn’t have any more book contracts in the works.  That was back in early June.

So I worked on picture books and my novel.  I roughed out two chapters to pitch with a proposal for the middle grade nonfiction Wild Cities.

But last Thursday I landed a new contract.  No, I can’t reveal wthat it is.  Let’s just say it is every bit as chipper as many of my books.

So why do I write books about difficult topics?  There are a number of reasons.

That’s What They Ask Me to Write

These are the topics that my editors at RedLine ask me to take on, but that is because . . .

These Are the Books Young Readers Need

We consider certain topics tough because it can be hard to find information on these issues.  Also, a lot of adults avoid discussing these topics with young readers.  If they do, their approach is often pretty biased.  Think about a kid asking their parents about The Impeachment of Donald Trump.  Supporter or no, it is hard to imagine any unbiased answers.  Kids need books about tough topics so that they can find answers.  But I like to think there is one more reason to write these books.

This Is What I’m Good At

Hopefully this isn’t the only thing I’m good at.  Not to worry.  I know there are other things I’m good at doing.  But I’m good at this and, as we discussed, a lot of adults aren’t.

So today I’m tackling another difficult topic.  Step 1 – the outline.

–SueBE

September 18, 2020

3 Creative Ways to Promote Your Book

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:01 am
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How do you promote your books when buyers can’t come to events and you can’t do school visits?  Authors who have had books come out in 2020 have gotten creative.  Here are 5 of my favorites.

An Online Scavenger Hunt

To promote his book, Into the Clouds, about a 1953 attempt to reach the summit of K2, Tod Olson has created an online scanvenger hunt.  He gives the reader a bit of information about the story found in his book.  Then he asks a question.  Readers search for the answer and then key it in.  Answer by answer, in this interactive quiz, they make their way up the mountain.

This might not work for your book but you could do a visual scavenger hunt – identify these animals, find these art objects, and more.  Take a look at your book and you’re bound to come up with ideas.

A Giveaway

Olson has a giveaway for Into the Clouds on the last page of his scavenger hunt.  I’ve seen other giveaways for all of an author’s preceding books.  Last year, I won a copy of Sharon Mayhew’s Keep Calm and Carry On, Children with accompanying British snacks.

Get creative! If your main character is a knitter, give away the book and a knitting pattern and the yarn needed to make it.

Teach Them Something

Mo Willems has been doing a series of videos where he shows his viewers how to draw something specific, such as The Pigeon.  Debbie Ridpath Ohi has done similiar videos.  She also has a series of images she has made that feature found objects – a broken crayon, a flower petal and more.

Not an illustrator?  Neither am I.  But you can teach your readers to do things that are integral to your books such as draw a map, build a platform to feed birds, or make their own invisible ink.

What you do to promote your book will depend on your book itself.  Brainstorm some ideas and then see which ones you should tackle first.  There are young readers out there desperate to make a connection.

–SueBE

September 17, 2020

5 Tips on Recharging

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 3:51 am
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Raise your hand if you’ve noticed that 2020 has been a bit much.  In spite of that, I feel like I’ve gotten a fair amount of writing done.

  • Early in the pandemic I wrote and rewrote The Impeachment of Donald Trump and Coronavirus: The COVID-19 Pandemic.
  • I’ve also written two new picture books, Baby Browz and Four Freddies.  Baby Browz is ready to submit.  Four Freddies probably needs another draft or two.
  • I’m revamping a nonfiction picture book series into Wild Cities, a middle grade nonfiction title.
  • I’ve also drafted a poem, a piece of flash fiction and 4693 blog posts.  Okay, I don’t know how many blog posts but it feels like a lot.

It may seem like I’m bragging but I’m just trying to illustrate a point – I’m prolific. And writing requires a lot of energy.  It’s easy to forget that because we aren’t physically lifting heavy loads.  Instead we do it intellectually and emotionally.  It is important to take time to regroup.

I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not brilliant at this.  Often I don’t bother until I’m crabby, exhausted and blue.  Don’t be me.  Be smarter.  Here are 5 tips to help you out.

  1.  Take breaks throughout the day.  When you freelance, it is easy to be on the job all day long. For example, I’m writing this at almost 11 pm.  Don’t do that. Get up from your desk for five minutes every half hour.  Weed the garden.  Stretch.  Get the laundry from your basement laundry room.
  2. Schedule your day.  When you start your work day, start with what has to get done.  Your blog post for tomorrow.  The new chapter intro your editor wants this afternoon.  Then plan when to end your work day.  Once that time arrives, do something other than work.
  3. Screen free time.  If you work on-screen, you need to spend time off-screen.  That includes your phone.  Sundays used to be my screen free day. Now it is Saturday.
  4. Have another creative outlet.  I’m not sure why doing non-writing creative work recharges me, but it does. I’ve been knitting. I crochet.  I bead and weave.  Maybe your creative thing is cooking.  Or decorating.  Or gardening.
  5. Schedule fun.  That may seem difficult to do right now but go someplace fun.  You get extra points if it is someplace in nature. Put these things on the calendar so you don’t ignore them.

Writing is difficult enough.  Give yourself what you need to have the energy to write.

–SueBE

 

 

September 16, 2020

Voice and the Research Rabbit Hole

Research can be a dangerous thing. First of all, there is the rabbit hole effect where you go online to look something up and emerge an hour later without that particular fact, but with 15 others.

Then there are those moments when you have to listen to a piece of music and it gets stuck in your head. Hank Williams singing I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry has been stuck in my head since Monday night.  A lesson I was studying was discussing voice and they had us listen to Hank Williams, B.J. Thomas, and Cassandra Wilson.

Amazon.com: I Saw The Light [DVD] [2016]: Movies & TVThe author of the lesson encouraged us to listen to how the same song sounded completely different when performed by these three different singers.  Cassandra’s Wilson’s version is a soft jazz ballad, smooth as honey.  B.J. Thomas?  He is a popular singer from the 60’s and 70’s world of pop.  His sound was more Tony Bennett to my untrained ears.  Hank Williams carried it with the twang and soulful sound I associate with this particular song.

How do different singers each give a song their own unique voice?  In part, it is done with their choice of instruments.  A piano is going to create a completely different sound than the wail of a steel guitar.  Harmonies, background vocals and more can come into play.

What does this have to do with voice?  Thomas and Wilson didn’t just sing ala Hank Williams.  They took the song and made it their own.

When you write something, you need to make it sound like you.  If you tell the story of the Three Pigs, it should sound entirely different than if I told it.  And neither one of us should ever be confused with Jane Yolen or even another poet like Naomi Shihab Nye.  And if Hank Williams told the story it would sound uniquely like Hank Williams.

Did you know that Tom Hiddleston played Hank Williams in I Saw the LIght? Rabbit hole. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

–SueBE

September 15, 2020

The Power of the Denouement

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 2:57 am
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I’ll be the first person to admit it.  In most pieces of writing, fiction and nonfiction, I tend to rush the ending.  I reach the climax, and I am ready to hit the road, on to new places.  That’s because what I’m writing is the ending, not a true denouement.

As defined by Writer’s Digest, the denouement is where loose ends are tied up and secrets are revealed.  That’s what I always think I am doing but still editors, critiquers and writing partners say the same thing – the ending is rushed.

Then I saw this post, Storyville: Why Denouement is Important to a Satisfying Story.  The denouement does more than tie things together.  Yes, this is where internal conflict and external conflict are joined. This is where you show that change happens.

But it is also where emotion comes out to play one last time.  A character who has chosen to save their people over love will feel that loss even as those around them celebrate.  A sleuth who finds out that the murderer is their mentor will be rocked to the core even as they are satisfied that it is over.  Emotions, both positive and negative, swirl throughout a strong ending.

This is also a time for revelations especially in post-apocalyptic stories.  The wall hasn’t been keeping monsters out, it has been keeping workers in.  Above ground is freedom but freedom comes with a price.

Even if a story is not apocalyptic, post or otherwise, there is truth in the denouement.  This is where the character realizes that she was driven not by justice but by revenge or that she has been manipulated by some larger power.

In my opinion, endings are especially hard to do well.  By tying up the action plot and the inner plot, bringing in emotion, and the sharp edge of truth, you’ll have a good start on getting it right.

–SueBE

September 14, 2020

3 Problems with Antagonists

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 2:48 am
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Darth Tater. One evil spud.

Last week I stumbled across K.M. Weiland’s 7 Considerations for Your Antagonist’s Motivations.  I’ve been looking askance at the protagonist in the mystery I am currently reading and now I understand why in three simple points.

He’s just plain crazy.

First of all, this is problematic because mental illness carries such a huge stigma. It doesn’t help when so many writers create mentally ill antagonists.  If that isn’t where the author I am currently reading is headed, the other probability is just as big a problem.

Picture of evil.

Protagonists that are just evil incarnate are also hard to pull off.  Whether they are bent on world domination or ending the world, very few stories can carry off this type of antagonist.  This type of antagonist is just too big for most stories and really?  Good vs evil?  True, that is how most people think of themselves (good) and those who stand in their way (evil).

Dehumanized antagonists.

“He’s just an animal.”  “She isn’t even human.”  “His eyes pits with no soul.”  The third pitfall to beware is dehumanizing your antagonist.  This is something our society has done for far too long with people we don’t understand or value.  Don’t take this cheap way out with your antagonist.  Instead, do something that is much more difficult but also yields a more compelling story.

Create a character who is deeply human with a motivation you protagonist and even your reader can understand and sympathize with.  This will make your protagonists choices that much more difficult to make.

Think about it. Slapping down someone who isn’t human and is just pure evil?  There’s no moral quandry there.  It cheapens the struggle.  But having to struggle and take something away from someone you can identify with and quite possibly like?  That is much more difficult emotionally and, if played right, will lead to a more gripping story.

–SueBE

 

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