One Writer’s Journey

January 16, 2017

Martin Luther King Jr. Day

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:49 am
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I’m not sure how many of you have the day off to celebrate the works and the impact of Martin Luther King, Jr.  I’m spending the day with my high school senior but here’s a King quote for inspiration.  Keep writing, keep working and keep creating the stories that will inspire young readers today and tomorrow.

king

January 13, 2017

Story Ideas: Where do they come from?

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:33 am
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light-bulbs-1125016_1920Throughout the month of January, I’m taking part in Storystorm. The goal is to generate 30 ideas in 30 days.  I’m writing this on Thursday the 12th and I currently have 22 ideas.

Early on, because I hadn’t been doing much idea generation, I was going good to come up with one a day.  Yes, I was managing it but it wasn’t pretty.  I’m so far ahead because the other day I came up with 9.  And I have a second one to write down for today.

How do I come up with so many ideas?

One thing is to look for ideas all around you.  I’ve been reading the Storystorm blog posts.  They’re all informative and some have nudged me towards an idea.  Sometimes it isn’t even an idea based on the post itself.  Sometimes I look at the images and one will remind me of something I found researching the Louisiana Purchase Exposition (1904 St. Louis World’s Fair).  The next thing I know, I’m noodling over an idea based on that research.

When you write nonfiction, one idea can also lead to another.  That’s what happened when I started thinking about the World’s Fair.  An idea about Ota Benga (someone brought in as part of an exhibit) led to an idea about using people as exhibits and more.

My daily foreign language study led to an idea about words. Reading the National Science Association newsletter led to an idea about nanomaterials. I’ve come up with ideas based on recent headline news, things I’ve seen posted on social media and more.

While one idea may not lead directly to another, generating ideas on a regular basis seems to have freed up the flow.  This is definitely a habit that I hope to continue after the month and the challenge are over.

That said, if I’m going to generate 300+ ideas in one year, I’m going to have to come up with some way to organize them.

I’m thinking . . . I’m thinking . . .

–SueBE

 

 

January 12, 2017

Favorite Characters

picnicWhich 10 Characters Would You Invite to Dinner?

I have to laugh when I see headlines like this in book blogs and newsletters of various kinds. The articles generally go on to discuss male main characters and love interests, even if strictly speaking the books are not romances.  Or aloof, well-bred ladies.  The guest lists have a tendency to resemble a BBC costume drama.

Sure, I have my favorite characters but they probably wouldn’t be the best dinner companions.  Why?  Because they’re great characters — messy, broken, and difficult but endearing.  Or compelling.  Compelling is probably a much better word choise than endearing.

So who would be on this list?  Keep in mind it changes along with my reading but it includes:

Ronan from Maggie Stiefvater’s Raven Cycle books.  This teen is bluster and rage and noise. He’s more than a little chaos with a bit of calamity thrown in.  As the books go on and you find out more about him, you realize that is just Ronan on the surface.  Ronan beneath is a creator and nurtures others but there is still all that noise.

Adam also from the Raven Cycle books.  He’s Ronan’s opposite in many ways.  He’s quite and watchful.  He’s the poor kid on scholarship to the rich kid’s school and because of this doesn’t fit in.  It bothers him sometimes but he knows who he is even as that definition and awareness of same changes.

Amani in Alwyn Hamilton’s Rebel of the Sands.  A child of the desert, she respects and loves it for its beauty and danger even as she wants to find someplace better.  She’s smart and sassy and it’s hard to believe with her lack of impulse control and smart mouth that she’s survived this long but it would also explain her relationship with her aunt.

Elisa from Rae Carson’s Girl of Fire and Thorns.  Where Amani is a rough one who finds out how to be both bandit and girl, Elisa is a posh princess who finds her hard edges.  When her husband is murdered, she eventually ends up heading the rebellion, a reality no one saw coming least of all herself.

Elisa would be the best dinner companion of the lot.  What is it that draws me to a character if not elegance and polish?  I love strong characters, those who aren’t afraid to defy convention.  I don’t mind contradictions — the characters who appears rough and rowdy but as a nurturing side.  I want complexity. I want daring.

Now I just need to learn to create these characters for my readers.  Easy peasy . . .

–SueBE

January 11, 2017

STEM: Writing about the space race, math and science

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:40 am
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Hidden Human computersAs happy as I am about the reception that Hidden Human Computers is getting, some of the comments on social media about our book and the movie Hidden Figures have brought me up short.  It isn’t that they are critical but some of them certainly clarify why books written on STEM topics are so essential and why is it so important that these topics be covered in mainstream media.

“Could Hidden Figures make math cool?”

Math doesn’t need to become cool, sugar.  Math is already cool.

When Duchess and I set out to write this book, we wanted to tell the story of her grandmother who was among the first black computers NASA hired at Langley.  Duchess grew up hearing about her grandmother.  Wasn’t that just the kind of job that a grandmother might have if she was mathematically inclined?

For my part, I grew up with a tech-savvy dad who also happened to be a teacher.  When he was a kid he told everyone who would listen that he wanted to be George Washington Carver.  No, he didn’t pick a prominent white scientist as a model.  He picked the most awesome scientist who could name.  The fact that Dad was a white kid in small town West Texas telling his teachers that he wanted to be a black scientist didn’t seem to faze anyone. When I was about 7 or 8 years old, Dad took a correspondence course and built a television.  I was his willing and able assistant, laying out all the resistors and diodes and other bits and pieces.

As adults, Duchess and I realized that not all girls had been encouraged to pursue math and science.  When we wrote this book, we worked hard to make it clear that girls have done math and science for years and years.  They did it.  Our readers can do it too.

And when cool people like Duchess grandmother do math?  It’s cool of course.  Nothing has to change but people’s attitudes.

–SueBE

 

 

 

January 10, 2017

We’re Number 1! Hidden Human Computers #1 at Amazon

number-one-new-release

While everyone in North American seemed to be watching (and posting about) the Golden Globes, I got a message from my co-author Duchess Harris.  “Check out the reviews on Amazon!”

Our book Hidden Human Computers was Amazon’s #1 New Release in Teen Air and Space Science Books. Woot! You better believe that Duchess and I did a happy dance!

For those of you who aren’t family with the book, it is about the African American women who helped send the US into space. Duchess and I wrote this book because her grandmother was one of the original black women computers hired by NASA. We were lucky to have such amazing women who had a great story to tell.

So far we have two reviews and they are both fantastic.  Of course, that doesn’t mean that negative reviews won’t come our way but tonight we are dancing and singing.

–SueBE

 

January 9, 2017

Ten Minutes a Day: When You Don’t Have Time to Write

ten-minutesIt may seem like a strange thing to hear a full-time writer say but it is truly embarrassing just how often I don’t have time to write.  At least I don’t have time to write something new. I’d been 50% of the way through my scene outline for Iron Mountain since early December.  But it all came to a halt when I landed the contract with Redline.  Gotta finish that paying work.

But I couldn’t find time to squeeze it in after I met that deadline.  I had Christmas to prepare!   And then New Years.  And the boys were home.  I’d get my blog posts done.  I’d get a tweet put up.  My two daily Spanish lessons on Duolingo?  Check.  I’d even spend 5 minutes picking up in my office.  But actually working on something new?

Nope.  There just wasn’t enough time in my work day.

Fortunately my writing buddies Cindy and Kris reminded me how a third friend works in a new project.  She works on it ten minutes a day.  Unless she is in the final crunch on a contracted book, she works on that new project for 10 minutes.  She might be doing research.  Or creating an outline.  Or working on chapter 1.  She might also be sending out queries to agents, preparing a pitch for an editor or getting ready to travel.  No matters.  She fits in that new project for 10 minutes a day.

Ten minutes a day.  That’s how long I spend on Duolingo and that’s not how I make my living.  Certainly I could find 10 minutes (20 minutes total) for two new projects — Iron Mountain (YA science fiction) and a new nonfiction project that involves a cave.

And you know what?  Once I decided that it was possible and that I was going to do it — no excuses — I’ve managed to do it for most of a week.  I’m almost 3/4 of the way through my scene outline now and I’ve done a chunk of the research on my new nonfiction.  I even shook loose two experts that I don’t even need yet.

Ten minutes a day.  It may not seem like much but its moving my projects forward.  It can work for you too.

–SueBE

January 6, 2017

Books with Chapters vs Chapter Books: Why You Need to Know The Difference

writing-termsLast night we had someone new at critique group. I don’t just mean new to our critique group.  I mean new to any professional critique group.  I realized this when I noticed that she called anything and everything that has chapters a chapter book. This really drove home why it is so important to know the terminology before you start to submit your work.  Use a term wrong and editors will realize you don’t know the industry.  Here are a few of the book related terms you need to know.

Board Book: This is a book for toddlers.  It is made out of cardboard and is meant to hold up to small people who don’t have the finesse not to damage a picture book.

Picture Books:  These fully illustrated books are written for children preschool-aged through grade school although most of the audience is preschool through about 8.  The text and illustrations work together to tell the story, each telling slightly different parts of the story.  Because of how they are printed, they are most often 32 pages.  The text may feel advanced since it is read to the child.

Early/Beginning Readers:  These books have a smaller trim size than a picture book.  This gives them the appearance of a “big kid’s” novel.   Many are fully illustrated but instead of expanding on the story the illustrations are there to help the reader decipher the text.  The text is easier than that of a picture book.

Chapter books:  These are for readers who are reading independently.  They aren’t ready for the longer books that middle graders read but they want the chapters.  The still enjoy illustrations but most if not all illustrations are black and white. Think Magic Tree House.  No subplots.

Middle grade novels.  These are for older grade school students.  Yes.  Older grade school.  Remember kids tend to read up.  Subplots are to be expected but these books aren’t nearly as edgy as young adult books.  There is a lot of diversity in terms of reading level and maturity of content.

Young Adult Novels.  These are novels for middle schoolers and high schoolers.  In spite of what some people think, all young adult novels are not super sexy but these kids are heading toward adulthood.

Using chapter book to describe true chapter books, middle grade books and young adult books is going to mark you as a newbie.  Don’t do this to yourself.  Read.  Learn the terminology.  Talk to other writers.  Then submit your work.  Otherwise the first impression you make on the editor will be one of confusion vs giving your work the opportunity it needs to shine.

–SueBE

January 5, 2017

Queries: Try, Swear, and Try Again

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 2:10 am
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frustrating

The picture above?  If I could draw, that would be a self-portrait of me writing a query letter yesterday.

I’m trying to get more magazine queries out this year so I want to do two or three a month.  So, in the name of not putting it off, I spent some time working on one of them.  I got it done in time for critique group but something about it just didn’t feel right.  I took another look at everything and realized that I just wasn’t certain about one of the sources.  It needed to go but if I eliminated it the whole idea was weaker. I’d have to come up with something new.

I didn’t have to start from scratch but solved the problem by reframing my original idea.  More about the here and now and not quite as much about way back then.  As I was wrapping things up, I pulled out the theme list and guidelines to check something.  I skimmed them and then read them more closely.

Then I read them again.

I’m not sure my piece has enough science.  Sigh.  I know I’m heading in the right direction but seriously?  Can’t I get it right in one try?  Apparently not.  I did take my ideas and the guidelines to my critique group.  They all like my idea but also acknowledge that I won’t be happy until I fine tune it.  What can I say?  They know what a pill I am.

But still, I’d like to get my next query right the first time.  Alas, this time around it is try, swear and then try again.

–SueBE

January 4, 2017

Adaptation: How to Make It Work

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:41 am
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rethinkSince I wrote my previous post on adaptation, I’ve been noodling over the possibilities.  What should I try first?  I keep coming back to an Aesop’s fable in part because it is short enough to easily wrap my head around.  My idea is that it will be easier to learn on something short, develop my skills and, if I’ve enjoyed it, take on something longer.

In preparation, I thought I should read up on how to create an adaptation.  What should stay, what should go and what pitfalls should I keep in mind?

My first pitfall wasn’t a warning so much as what I could find vs what I couldn’t.  95% of everything written on adaptation is written about adapting a short story or novel to a movie script.  Obviously, adapting a novel to a screenplay presents the writer with certain challenges since I screenplay is significantly shorter than a novel.  But I don’t write screenplays so I really wanted to find information on some other form.  Eventually, I found this Writer’s Digest  post.  While the author, Harrison Demchick does adapt novels to screenplays, he has also adapted his own short stories to create a novel.

The first important point that Demchick emphasizes is that adaptation is not copying.  To create a successful adaptation, you have to be ready to make some big changes.

You have to know the cenventions and typical forms of each type of writing you are working with.  When Demchick first attempted to adapt his stories into a screenplay he had to take the multiple stories involved and choose one to use as the central narrative in the screenplay.  Why?  Because very few successful movies have multiple narratives. He focused on one central character.

As he worked to develop this new form, new scenes came into being.  The character’s age changed. The piece went from first person to third.

Don’t panic if things don’t quickly come together.  It may take several tries to get it right especially if you are writing in a genre or subgenre that is new to you.

While I know I won’t be writing a screenplay, changing the setting and shaking up some of the characters will have wide spread consequences for whatever I choose to adapt.  I can’t imagine that I’ll get it right the first try.  Still, if the story is worth telling, it is worth telling well.  Try, try again!

–SueBE

 

January 3, 2017

Finding an Agent

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:14 am
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Agent HuntAlthough I did send out material to several agents last year, I think it would be stretching it to call it an agent hunt.  Hunt implies an active search and a lot of effort.  I printed things off.  I made a list of names.  I looked into about 20 people and ruled out a lot.  But I submitted to or queried very few.  I need to make a concerted effort to seek out agents and submit every month.

So what do I look for in an agent?

First things first, I look for someone who represents what I write.  I know it sounds a little obvious but a lot of people skip this step altogether judging by the number of agents I see complaining.  “I only represent romances, don’t send me picture books.”  “I only represent children’s literature.  Why do people send me erotica?”  Okay, I made up those two examples but you get the point.

I need to find someone who handles materials from picture book to young adult and both fiction and nonfiction.  Granted, I’ve sold very little fiction but I’d like to write and sell more.  Besides, the hard part is finding someone who is serious about nonfiction.

Second, I need to make sure they are accepting materials right now.  If this is an agent that I research in January but she is closed until March, she needs to go back in the March folder.

Third, I need to look at what they represent.  I’ve met a lot of agents whom I genuinely liked, and some that I really connected with, whose sales are nothing like what I write.  I couldn’t do cute to save myself.  I am, at best, your gritty realist and on other days I’m a bit more than gritty.  I need an agent with a similar outlook.

As I’m looking into what they represent, I need to make sure they don’t have someone whose work is too similar to my own.  After all, that author already has his or her foot in the door.

Today, I have my short list for January (Ed Maxwell, Molly O’Neill, Rena Rossner, Mark Gottlieb, and Clelia Gore).  Now I need to look at their clients/books.  Next week, I’ll be sending things out. Yes, it is a lot of work but it will be worth it to have someone representing my work.

–SueBE

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