One Writer’s Journey

September 20, 2019

Banned Books Week

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:39 am
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Guess what starts on September 22, 2019?  Banned Books Week!

I always pick out a banned book to read in celebration.  What? That’s not how I’m supposed to react to someone telling me what to do?  Yeah, sorry about that.  It is the way I’ve reacted since I was a tot.

Anyway, let’s take a look at some of the books you might choose.  Want a book specifically for writers and other creative types?  The Artists Way by Julia Cameron has had to be defended.

If you are interested in novels, two of my favorites are on the list.  You can read Amy Tan’s The Bonesetter’s Daughter or Barbara Kingsolver’s The Bean Tree.  Hey, here’s one that is on my shelf waiting for me to get reacquainted with it before I read the sequel, Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale. 

Children’s novels, picture books, nonfiction and more can be found on the list of titles defended by the National Council of Teacher’s of English from 2002 to 2018.  You can find it here.

Want to make sure you are reading a book that has been recently challenged?  Then check out this video for the Top 11 Most Challenged Books in 2018.

Let me know what book you decide to read!


September 19, 2019

National Book Award: Long List for 2019 Award for Young People’s Literature Released

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:20 am
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If you write for teens and you often find yourself inspired by what is making headline news, you need to check out the National Book Awards.  In my experience, the National Book Foundation gravitates towards books that could be ripped from today’s headlines.  The long list for 2019 has just been announced.  These are the books from which the finalists and ultimately the winner will be chosen.  They are:

The Undefeated by Kwame Alexander, illustrations by Kadir Nelson (Versify/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt). Originally a poem, this title is an ode to the strength of Black Americans in the past and today.

SHOUTby Laurie Halse Anderson (Viking Books for Young Readers/Penguin Random House). A memoir in verse.

Pet by Akwaeke Emezi (Make Me a World/Penguin Random House). A fantasy story about about what the world is like after the school shooting, police brutality and prison crazy modern age.

A Place to Belong by Cynthia Kadohata (With illustrations by Julia Kuo Atheneum/Caitlyn Dlouhy Books/Simon & Schuster). The story of a Japanese American family repatriated to Japan after World War II.

Look Both Ways: A Tale Told in Ten Blocks by Jason Reynolds (Atheneum/Caitlyn Dlouhy Books/Simon & Schuster). A collection of short stories about the after school activities of a group of middle school students.

Patron Saints of Nothing by Randy Ribay (Kokila/Penguin Random House). When Jay’s drug addicted cousin, Jun, is murdered, he journeys to the Philippines where he was born to find out what happened.

Thirteen Doorways, Wolves Behind Them All by Laura Ruby (Balzer + Bray/HarperCollins Publishers) is based on the author’s mother-in-law’s experience growing up in a World War II era Chicago orphanage.

1919: The Year That Changed America by Martin W. Sandler (Bloomsbury Children’s Books/Bloomsbury Publishing). Each chapter deals with a different pivotal event from the Great Molasses Flood to the onset of Prohibition.

Out of Salem by Hal Schrieve (Triangle Square/Seven Stories Press). A fantasy about a gender-queer character who becomes a zombie in a fatal car accident.

Kiss Number 8 by Colleen AF Venable and Ellen T. Crenshaw (First Second Books/Macmillan Publishers). A graphic novel that deals with transphobia and sexuality and well as hypocrisy as the main character grows up in a conservative household and school.

Admittedly, I only have one of these books, Patron Saints of Nothing, on my shelf at the moment but I’m eager to request others.  So many fascinating stories, many of which combine history with today’s headlines, to explore.


September 18, 2019

Reading Like a Writer: What I’m Reading Right Now

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:53 am
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Recently a friend asked about my current reading.  I rattled off the titles of these five books.  She looked perplexed.  “Don’t most people read one book at a time?”

I generally read two or three books at a time so five is a bit much even for me.

A Better Man by Louise Penny is my current audio book.  I do a lot of handwork and this is when I listen to a variety of novels.

The Who is part of a work related project and then I got sucked into it and had to read the whole massive book.

The Bookshop of the Broken Hearted is my current book club book (Hi, Ladies!).

Conflict Resolutions for Holy Beings is poetry.  I do NOT just sit and read poetry.  I read one or two poems and then put the book down.  It takes me a while to mentally and emotionally process poetry so this book is hanging out on the coffee table for me to pick up when I walk past.

My Lobotomy is a memoir that was recommended by a friend.  At the time, I didn’t have a Kindle read going on and I only read Kindle while on the treadmill.

So five books is a little more than usual but the part that is really shocking?  No books for young readers.  Not one.  Usually my current reading is more young people’s books than grown up books. Yes, grown up books.  Adult brings a different connotation so I use the goofy term grown up.

But there is also a lot of history in The Who and Joy Harjo writes about social justice.  In my opinion, medical history especially horrible medical history is also a social justice issue which means that My Lobotomy, Conflict Resolution and The Who will likely end up feeding my reading in some way.

What are you reading?


September 17, 2019

Novelty Books: To Make a Sale, You Need More than a Manuscript

“Do not try to illustrate your work if you aren’t an illustrator.”  In my opinion, and it is NOT a humble opinion, this is one of the hardest ideas to get across to would-be picture book authors. Imagine my surprise when I read Salina Yoon’s post on Tara Lazar’s blog, “If You Build It, It Can Sell! A Novelty Book Primer.”

I lead a public critique group so I read up on a wide variety of writing.  After all, I tell myself, I never know what someone is going to bring with them.  But when you market an idea for a novelty book, you are going to have to create a mock-up.  Yes, that may mean doing some basic paper engineering and even some illustration.  As you can see in the video below, Yoon’s mock-up is pretty fantastic.

Yoon also emphasized that novelty books are sold as series.  That other piece of advice, write one book and if it sells they may want your series?  For a novelty book, never mind.  If they want one, they will want several.  Below left is her first book in the series.

I didn’t notice any other long held bits of wisdom that get tossed aside for novelty books but perhaps something even more disturbing has happened.  I’ve found myself playing around with an idea.  My first thought was a book about archaeology, removing soil layer by layer.  But novelty book readers are going to be too young for that kind of an idea.  But layers . . . that is something I can probably play with.  I’ll have to noodle over how to do it in a series format.

And I’ll have to figure out some paper engineering.

And how to use Photoshop or Illustrator well enough to create my mock up.

Is my jar of rubber cement still good?  I better check.

And where is my favorite x-acto knife?

Hmm.  When you show an author a great piece on novelty books, she’s going to want to make one of her very own.


September 16, 2019

Space Opera: Exploring Science Fiction and Fantasy

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:00 am
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Just yesterday, I was puttering around in cyberspace when I spotted something on space opera.  What caught my eye was a quote – “I associate the idea of space opera with appallingly bad writing.” I skimmed further and spotted this from the Oxford dictionary. They say that space opera are known for being simplistic and melodramatic.

Wow. Someone had a bee in their bonnet that day.

Space opera, simply put, is a sweeping, epic adventure that takes place in space.  There are battles, often in space or on other planets which pretty much covers every possibility.   There are pirates, vast military forces and adventure.

I’ve always been a fan of space opera although at the time I was reading it and seeing various movies I didn’t know that this is what it was called.  Classic space opera includes Star Wars, Dune (I’m a huge fan of the books), Starship Troopers, Star Trek, Battlestar Galactica, and Lost in Space.

By the time I discovered Fire Fly and Serenity, both made by Joss Whedon, I knew what space opera was. And don’t forget Avatar and Guardians of the Galaxy and several other movies set in the Marvel universe.

So of course, I had to check out the list in Publisher’s Weekly that author John Birmingham created, “10 Authors Shaking Up Space Opera.”  One of the things that I really appreciated is that there are three authors who have pulled in non-Euro-American traditions.  These three are:

Cixin Liu whose The Three Body Problem who combines this western literary form (space opera) with Chinese literary forms and culture.

Nnedi Okorafur author of the Binti novella series writes from within a Nigerian American sensibility.

Yoon Ha Lee especially thrilled me because his book, Dragon Pearl, is a middle grade novel published as part of Rick Riordan’s imprint.  The archetypes may be largely western but they are colored by Korean mythology.

Get your work into the hands of eager readers by combining a new twist with a tried and true form.  Check out the titles on Birmingham’s list for some ideas how that can be done.


September 13, 2019

Mood Rings: Why Aren’t You Making Progress Today

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:16 am
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mood rings

Writer’s Mood Ring Colors, by M. Kirin. Want more writerly content? Follow!

For Friday I thought we’d go with something light.  I don’t know about you but I loved mood rings when I was a kid.  Unfortunately, my hands tend to be cold so some colors just never happened.  Still they sure were fun.

Enjoy this humorous take on the Mood Ring for writers.  When I looked over it, I was surprised that the vast majority had to do with why you aren’t getting any actual writing done.  Hmm.  I think that may say something about writers as a whole.  How much are you getting done today?


September 12, 2019

Fiction or Nonfiction: Which One Do You Choose?

Which do you choose? Fact or fiction?

When you find a compelling story, one of the decisions that you need to make is whether you are going to write it as fiction or nonfiction.  There are a number of factors that impact my decision.

I will write the story as nonfiction if:

I can find the complete story.  If I can find not only what happened but why it happened, I consider writing nonfiction.

The full story has a compelling ending.  Not every event can be traced to a satisfying conclusion.  But when they can, nonfiction is a great choice.  Remember that satisfying does not mean happy. Someone who was cheated out of an invention or the money that got for said invention or simply could not get what it was worth because of their class or race can make a compelling if unhappy story.

It pulls me in and doesn’t let go.  What more is there to say?

I will write the story as fiction if:

I cannot find the complete story.   Often there are gaps that simply cannot be filled.  This may happen because the research material is located overseas or is not in a language I read.  Then I write a fictional story.

The story does not have a compelling ending.  Again, this might happen if there are gaps.  Or it might simply be that the person made awful decisions.  In reality, people make a lot of bad decisions but in literature this can get old fast.  Want to justify a bad decision?  Create a fictitious reason that is seemed like a good decision.

I can improve on reality.  Sometimes I find myself reading about a past event and I think what would happen if so-and-so hadn’t lost/missed the boat/failed to make X connection?   Fictionalizing an event lets me play with what-ifs and what-might-have-beens.

Still not sure which way to go?  When that happens to me, I tend to write the piece first as nonfiction.  If there are gaps I cannot fill or questions I cannot answer, then I rewrite the piece as fiction.  Anyone who has read good historic fiction knows that fiction too can be a great way to tell a story that is full of truth if not entirely true.


September 11, 2019

The Things We Assume

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:36 am
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The Smoky Mountains between Gatlinburg and Cherokee.

Yesterday I read a post by Rheea Mukherjee about Negotiating Social Privilege as a writer.  Her post made me think about the things that we assume.

Cell phones.  Write a story without cell phones or a story where a plot point hinges on a dropped call and people will challenge you on it.  I’ve seen this happen in critique groups and it kind of cracks me up.

I have been three places in the past year with patchy cell service.  In each of these locations, some places have it and some don’t.  People don’t live with a phone grafted to their hand like they do in the city.

And, yes, there are still people there and, no, it isn’t like Mad Max.

So many stories rely on the characters having ready access to transportation.  Teens have cars or live on bus lines.

But that isn’t always reality.  Even in the suburbs, buses run infrequently and not everyone has a car.  Yes, it is inconvenient but it is also real.  And that isn’t even taking a rural area or the southwest into consideration.

Does it mean that you shouldn’t have any of these realities in your stories?  Nope.  But it does mean that you should set your story in a specific time and place where and when these things exist.  You should create characters who would have them.

This might mean writing about a family much like your own.  Our your sister’s.  Or your kid’s best friend’s.

Because a lot of what we think we know isn’t necessarily true.  In the Smoky’s, people don’t rely on their cell phones and being able to text people to set up plans.  It doesn’t make sense because they very well may not have service.  And the people who work in Gatlinburg?  Most of them don’t live there.  They can’t afford it.

Reality is often a lot more diverse than we think it is.


September 10, 2019

Shaking Things Up: Making Big Changes

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:42 am
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I’m not the only one who likes the sofa in the dining room.

Last Thursday as he left for work, my son dropped a request in my lap. “I’m having the everyone over to game tomorrow.  Can we swap the living room with the dining room?”

We’ve done this before.  Our living room is much larger and when all the leaves are in the dining room table scooting around it is like a slow-motion slot car race.  So when he got home that night, we moved our rather large sofa into the dining room.  Our dining room table made it into the living room.  Then the coffee table slid into the dining room and we placed the chairs around the dining room table.

The funny thing? I love having the sofa in the dining room.  I’m not sure why since it is a smaller room but I feel less crowded in there.  Maybe because the sofa isn’t facing a wall.  And, as we placed the chairs around the dining room table, I found myself evaluating things.  Whoa, this is really a lot of chairs.  Do we need them all?  Two ended up in the basement.  A few more pieces may go away.

Sometimes when you are working on a piece of writing, you know something isn’t working but you aren’t sure what.  Does the beginning drag?  If so, you may have started too early.  Trim your beginning scene by scene until you can’t cut any more.  Stop howling!  You don’t have to delete the scenes.  Cut them and put them in another document.  For almost every piece I write, I have a document labeled “stuff.” This is where I put the things that I’ve trimmed out just in case I need them back.  But once I’ve cut out scene one I can see how the whole thing works with my new lean, mean opening. Sometimes I have to rearrange some things to make this new opening work, but that’s okay.

The first fix you try may not work but that’s okay, too.  The great thing about writing in the digital age is that these changes are relatively simple to make.  You can rewrite a scene with a new setting or a new point-of-view character.  You can change the tense.  And it if doesn’t work?  You pull things back out of the stuff document and try again.


September 9, 2019

Goals: Making Them Real

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:21 am
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About a week ago, I read a blog post by one of my writing pals, “Write Your Dreams into Existence.”  In her post, Renee talks about how to make your goals more real by journaling as if you’ve achieved them.  These are present realities, not pie-in-the-sky dreams for tomorrow.

I have to admit that the idea didn’t immediately grab me.  It felt just a little too woo-woo.  But it didn’t let go either.  At odd times throughout the week, I’d catch myself thinking about it.  What are my big goals?

Part of what makes this technique a little tricky is that you note not one goal or even three goals but TEN goals.  What are your ten goals?

That takes a bit more thought that is immediately obvious.  For one thing, you are supposed to be specific.  So I am a succcess just doesn’t cut it.  You want to be a success as . . . a parent?  A poet?  A novelist?  Once you’ve answered this question, it is time to get even more specific.

What does it mean to be a success as a novelist?  You want to have a trilogy?  Ten novels?  Something in hardback?  Something that has been translated?

Once you have all ten goals, you note which one you will first achieve.  And then you list them, day after day, in your journal.  It may seem woo-woo but I’m starting to understand the appeal.  You write it in present tense as if it has happened.

I am represented by an agent.   

Do this each and every day and these goals are going to be everpresent.  As you make choices about your writing – what will I work on, where will I submit, what topics/markets will I select – you will balance them according to whether they move you toward these goals or not.

On the one hand it seems a bit mercenary.  On the other, we all spend a lot of time doing things that don’t feed into our goals.  Why not focus instead on what is important to us?

As I see it, either we will begin to make progress or we will realize that although we say we want something it really isn’t all that important to us.  Care to join me and see what happens?


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