One Writer’s Journey

September 4, 2015

Inspiration: Writing Ideas

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:43 am
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PANDORA-THUMBNAIL-FINAL-with-lineInspiration comes from just about everywhere.  Recently, I came up with a book idea while reading another author’s book, Pandora’s Mirror by Marella Sands.

Normally, when inspiration strikes, I run with it.  The way it works is something like this.  I’ll be reading a book and something in the story grabs my attention.  It might be a detail about the setting or a real person who somehow featured in the story.  It might have something to do with what people at that time or in that place believed.  It is always a tangent only vaguely related to the original so working the project up isn’t a problem.  I’m not copying the original author or piggy-backing on their work in any way.  This isn’t, after all, fan fiction.

But this time is a little different.  This is a book about a young woman who lives in a genuine haunted house.  The book is rich with details on how to hunt for ghosts.  Many of the methods could be adopted or adapted by a young reader.  I remember the ghost crazy phase my own son went through and would love to write a ghost hunting book.

Normally I’d do a market check and then, barring a similar book in print, get to work.  This time, I have a problem.

The author of this book is a close friend.  This means that I’ll tell her about the idea and see if she’s interested in pursuing it.  She’s written some children’s educational nonfiction under another name so it isn’t altogether outside the realm of possibility that she would decide to write such a book. Whether or not I get busy will depend on how she responds.

What about you? Under what circumstances would you run an idea by another writer first?

–SueBE

September 3, 2015

Research: Source accuracy and checking your facts

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 12:39 am
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One of the things that’s been much on my mind lately is source accuracy.  A friend of mine once told me that her father, a lawyer, told her that whenever the media wrote about one of his cases, they were only 50% accurate.  She thought that was an exageration before my recent experience with FOX and their pals.

With so much misinformation, how do you find what is accurate?

This is why primary sources are important.  Journal articles about scientific discoveries get you as close to the actual experiments and the data as possible.  Some scientists make their actual results available online.  Diaries and letters written by people who viewed the events are first hand accounts.  No one is closer to what happened, but this does take you into the unreliable world of the eye witness.

People are notoriously unreliable.  Every police investigator or prosecuting attorney will tell you this.  People are biased.  They take sides.  They want to believe certain things as much as they want to avoid believing others.

How then do you find the facts when the time comes to research a controversial topic?

When I wrote up the individual cases featured in Black Lives Matter, I paid less attention to eye witnesses than I paid to crime scene evidence and forensics.  Time signatures on 911 calls were more reliable than best friends.  Chemistry trumps the opinions of neighbors.  Where and what was scattered around?  It tells the story much more accurately than any human being.

That isn’t to say that I ruled out eye witnesses.  But when I read eye witness accounts, I looked for people who weren’t likely to agree.  What details did a police witness give?  What about someone who supported the victim?  Why did I look for these two sides?  Because they don’t want to agree.  When they do, you’ve most likely found fact.

Yes, researching something controversial takes time but you are piecing together a story that is buried under emotion and opinion, fear and hate.

–SueBE

September 2, 2015

What Editors and Agents Want

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:52 am
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Recently, I read a post by agent Scott Eagan on why some agents and editors are reluctant to tell writers what they want.  At conferences, they give vague answers about voice and character.

They do this because they don’t want 100 conference participants to go home and write a contemporary YA or steampunk simply because that’s what one editor mentioned.  They don’t want you crafting humorous middle grade or a nonfiction picture book about pill bugs because that’s what an agent mentioned.  They want you to write what moves you. Then they want you to find the agent or editor that is a good match.

How do you do this?  It isn’t as hard as you might think.

  • Publisher/Agency site.  First things first, check out the BIG SITE.  See what they publish/represent.  If this looks like a good match, check out the individual.  Agents often list favorite books and/or sales on the agency site.  If not . . .
  • Google.  Before you submit to an agent or editor, google their name.  If they have a blog or a site, check it out.  Among the things that you will find are conference brochures if this person was a speaker. Bios often include books published/sold. Check them out.
  • Edited by . . . If you are a SCBWI member, don’t forget to check out the publication “Edited By…”  It lists a variety of publishers as well as who within that publisher edited that particular book.

Once you’ve gathered this information give it a hard look.  Does any of this work intrigue you?  If not, give this agent or editor a pass.  If so, read some of these books.  Are these your types of books?  If so, you have someone who might like your work.

The best part about this?  You don’t have to limit your search to agents or editors you’ve heard speak at a conference.  Now, happy hunting!

–SueBE

September 1, 2015

Text book vs Educational book

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:23 am
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One of the things that came up in the Black Lives Matter furor (read yesterday’s post) was what is a text book?  FOX claimed that Duchess and I wrote a text book to indoctrinate 6th graders.
Text book
Paul Abdo, our publisher, calmly explained that Abdo doesn’t publish text books. They publish educational books.  So what’s the diff?
Here’s how I explained it to Fusion writer David Matthews.
A text book is a book used to educate in the classroom.  Think about the reading primers and math books that you learned from in the classroom.  There are instructional sections as well as exercises which might include discussion questions or problems for a math text.  You rarely find someone reading a text book just to find something out.  These books are generally stand alones.
An educational book is meant to teach.  Many of these books are sold to libraries, ranging from school libraries to public libraries although books by educational publishers are also used in classrooms. A student doing a paper on the Black Lives Matter movement or Trayvon Martin might go to the library to pick up the book Duchess and I wrote.  Many of these books are published in series.
I understand the confusion but I also understand the difference.  If you want to submit your work to a publisher who does one or the other, you need to know the diference too.
–SueBE

August 31, 2015

FOX News: Black Lives Matter and how to deal with bad reviews

Black Lives MatterThis past week has been interesting.  I mean interesting in that midwestern sense — I don’t want to say anything mean so I’ll just say “interesting.”

It started last Sunday when a message popped up on my Facebook author page.  I don’t remember the exact working but apparently I am racist and “he” is right about me and my book (the poster has since deleted the message).  What the heck?  Who accuses you of being racist when you’ve written a book about the Ancient Maya?  Or Pearl Harbor?  I don’t have a copy of that yet but maybe . . . Slowly it dawned.  Black Lives Matter.  Sure, I expected a stink about this book, but I didn’t expect much to happen two months before the book came out.

Somehow FOX news and Larry Elder discovered my book.  The only facts they got right were the name of the book and the authors, myself and Duchess Harris.  What do you expect? They haven’t seen the book.  Thanks to FOX news, nasty comments popped up on Facebook and the book has 6 pages of nasty Google results.

In the past week, I’ve learned a few things about how to deal with negative reviews/news articles.  Hopefully you won’t need this advice, but here it is.

  1.  Do NOT respond.  This is tough when they’re making things up.  But don’t engage.  Don’t sarcastically thank them for sharing their opinion.  Don’t point out their factual errors.  As my friends have pointed out, haters gonna hate.  Let. It. Go.
  2. Stop reading .  It’s going to be tough because you want to know what people are saying about you.  DO NOT read this trash.  Do a Google search and look for positive stories to read.  How can you tell which ones are positive?  The search results don’t include words like “indoctrinate” or “fancy pants.”  Admittedly, I haven’t quite figured out the last one.
  3. No comments.  Don’t read the comments either.  You will not learn anything beyond how badly hateful people spell.
  4. Proceed with caution.  After this all started, several people contacted Duchess and I wanting interviews.  The temptation it to defend yourself and your book.  Check out each would-be interviewer.  Duchess and I talked to a few people and the facts about our book are making their way out into the world; see one article here.
  5. Be patient.  In about four days, it all more or less blew over.  I don’t know whether stirring things up myself would have made it last longer, but I would have been a lot more miserable for the duration.

Whether your hater is a reporter or a book reviewer, you aren’t going to win any wars if you engage.  Instead, work on your next book.  Duchess and I are doing the research and debating titles for our next joint effort.  More about that soon.

–SueBE

August 28, 2015

Diversity: What is Casual Diversity?

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:46 am
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Since I’m now writing books that fall into the category of diversity, I decided I better educate myself when I ran into a new-to-me term — Casual Diversity.  Casual diversity is when diverse characters populate a story but the story is not about diversity.

For example, let’s say you are writing a series of fantasy novels.  In this fantasy world, some characters have amazing powers but these powers are often feared. In most territories within this story, these characters live under a veil of suspicion and have to directly serve their king or queen.  Only one territory is different but it is also geographically separated from the others and harder to reach so there has been less cultural exchange.  Your story is about a gifted character who wants to prove, to herself and others, that she isn’t all that bad even if her gift can easily result in someone’s death.

What the heck does this have to do with diversity?  This story idea may sound familiar if you’ve read Graceling, Fire or Bitterblue by Kristin Cashore.  Her stories are about characters struggling with magic. They are not about diversity, at least not directly.  And yet there are two men who are a couple and also two women. These aren’t the many characters but important secondary characters.  Casual diversity.

But not all authors and editors love this idea.  The concern that I’ve seen expressed most often is that in an attempt to create books with diverse characters, authors will more or less randomly assign a culture or race to various characters.  “She’s black.  He’s native american.  And that one?  That one’s muslim.”  While I can see their concern, to me that just sounds like sloppy characterization.  After all, we should all know the backstories for our characters and a character who is Black, Native American or Muslim will be shaped in subtle ways by their background.

Personally, my greatest concern is that these diverse characters will fall into stereotypes and cliches– the gay best friend who loves to shop, the sassy black girl, Chinese genius, and the black male athlete.  Let’s face it.  I’ve seen these characters.

That said, I don’t think that casual diversity is a bad thing.  In fact, I think that it’s a necessary thing.  We’ll know we’ve finally got it right when books that appear to be casually diverse are populated by three-dimensional characters that are both read and compelling.

–SueBE

 

 

 

 

August 27, 2015

Favorite Books: The Boxcar Children

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:26 am
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Jared's islandRecently, I read a series of blog posts about favorite children’s books.  This got me thinking about my very own favorites.  There may have been one gold medalist but they was, in all truth, a list.

The Boxcar Children.  I discovered this one when I was 11.  I had just started at a new school but I was hardly alone.  A new area had been pulled into our district and the administration bussed us hither and yon.  I spent a lot of time in the library and I can’t even tell you how often I read this particular book.  Not the series.  I’m not even sure that I knew there was a series.  I read the first book again and again.  Wblack goldhat did I love about it?  That these kids took care of themselves without adult interference.  Yes, as an adult, I realize just how preposterous this was but as a kid I loved it.  They took care of each other without any of that Lord of the Flies nonsense.  They found the boxcar and they furnished it on their own. Take a look around my home and you’re going to see a host of found items.  My husband tries to be tolerant but he’s the only non-boxcar child in that particular sense.  This may be the book that I read the most but there were others as well . . .

Everything by Marguerite Henry.  The first book of hers that I owned was either Black Gold or Mustangs.  I was truly a horse crazy kid and I devoured these books.  I begged for these books.  I drove my mother a bit batty with these books (The only photo of my mother on horseback made it very clear that she was only tolerating the horse).  I loved that these books were often about real horses although the stories were made up.  My family has a strong Southern story telling tradition so even at a young age I got that link between fact on one hand and story on the other.

Jared’s Island by Marguerite De Angeli.  Yep. Another kid surviving without pesky adults book.  How much did I love this one?  Look at the title and you’re going to find my son’s name.

The crazy thing is that as I write this post, I think of book after book.  And as I think of each one, I think — ooo, that’s my favorite.  What else have I remembered?  The Little House books, The Tarzan books (yes the adult fantasy novels), Nancy Drew, Trixie Belden, Meg Mysteries, my grandfather’s Foxfire books, Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee.

Just as these books shaped me, they shape my writing in subtle ways.  I still love stories of kids who do for themselves (where are their parents ask my critique partners). And I love the subtly offbeat (Foxfire? Really?)  What were your favorite books?

–SueBE

August 26, 2015

Public Speaking: Newbie Orientation

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:55 am
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MissouriOn Saturday, September 26, 2015, I will be giving the Newbie Orientation at the Missouri SCBWI Fall Conference, Soaring to New Heights.

This will be the second year that I’ve been in charge of this session — I hesitate to call it speaking because although I give tips I run it as a Question and Answer.  Sometimes the answers come from me.  Sometimes they come from someone else in the audience. When I first started speaking in public, I wouldn’t have been a very good choice for this session.  I was, as my grandmother called me, a Nervous Nelly.  To find out how I got past that, read my post today at the Muffin.

Even if you’re only attending sessions, vs leading them, the stress can get to a hard core introvert, such as many writers tend to be.  That’s why I lead this session.  If people don’t have questions that morning, they can ask me any time throughout the day.  What if they have questions afterwards, they can e-mail me.

What do I cover?

First I do a rundown on the day’s schedule.  What is happening when.

I also go into the basics of the facility itself.  This is where the bathrooms are.  All of the sessions are on this level.  Lunch will be served here.  We introverts are more comfortable when we have a plan.

Then I leap into conference etiquette.  I assure them that although they are well-behaved, not everyone is and thus headquarters requires me to ask them not to follow editors or agents into the bathroom to hand off their manuscripts and not to ask detailed questions about formatting their manuscripts, query letters and manuscript length (because those things are covered in the Keyboard to Printed Page handout).

I encourage them to interact with their fellow participants.  Most of them come there thinking “I’m going to connect with an agent or editor.” They sometimes forget what a wealth of information their fellows can be.  In fact, most of my sales have come through this kind of networking.

I only have about 30 minutes but can you think of anything else I should cover?

–SueBE

August 25, 2015

Back Pain: Writing and Your Lower Back

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:52 am
Unless you want to feel clunky, set a timer and when it goes off get up and move around.

Unless you want to feel clunky, set a timer and when it goes off get up and move around.

This past spring and summer, I suffered through several months of lower back pain.  What does that have to do with writing?  More than you might think.

Eighty percent of all people will have lower back pain at some point in their lives.  Yes, sometimes an injury is the cause.  Sometimes it is hereditary.  But most often, it is because we spend too much time sitting down.  The fact is that “butt in chair” can be contributing to “pain in back.”

Here are some things that you can do to help reduce lower back pain.  First things first, make sure your work space is ergonomic. This means that your thighs should be parallel to the floor. Yep, it is really uncomfortable at first but you adjust.  Your forearms should also be parallel to the floor.  To work out both the arm bit and the leg bit, you may have to use a foot rest.  Thankfully, I’m tall.  Your monitor should be at eye level and about an arm’s length from your face.

That’s a start, but it isn’t all of it.  You also need to limit how much time you spend with butt-in-chair.  I do this by working with a timer.  I use an online timer so that I’m not distracted by the ticking and I set it for 20 to 25 minutes.  Yes, 20 to 25 minutes.  When I started this, I already had the back pain and sitting only made it worse.  When the timer goes off, I get up and put in a load of wash, shift a load to the dryer or pull weeds for a few minutes.  Sometimes I even iron a shirt.

The disgusting reality is that all of this seems to be working together to help my back.  Hopefully some of these tips will help you deal with mild pain or keep you from getting into this situation.  If you’re having serious pain, please go to your doctor.  I put it off for several weeks and still wish I had been less stubborn.

Do you have your timer set?  You need to get up and move around in 20 or 25 minutes.  I wasn’t joking!

–SueBE

 

August 24, 2015

Mo SCBWI conference

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:36 am
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MissouriIf you are interested in writing or illustrating for children and live in the St. Louis area, consider attending “Soaring to New Heights: Missouri SCBWI Fall Conference.”  Friday, September 25, is devoted to critique meetings but those slots have already filled.  There are approximately 20 slots still open for Saturday, Sept. 26, which includes the various workshops and speaker sessions.  Here is the Saturday schedule.

Saturday, September 26 (Lindenwood University, Rooms to be announced)

8-8:30 Registration and breakfast snacks /Newbie Orientation led by Sue Bradford Edwards (Subtle, aren’t I?  This is my session.)

8:30-8:45 Opening Remarks 

8:45-9:30 EB Lewis keynote “Writing with Pictures”

9:30-9:45 Break

9:45-10:45  Breakouts (you choose one)

1.  Author/Illustrator EB Lewis for all Illustrators (picture book writers, too!)  “The Hook of the Book” PART ONE 

(PLEASE NOTE: This session will run ALL day- through both breakouts and the intensive. You may choose to attend all or only a part of it.)

2.  Agent Brianne Johnson: “Character-driven Picture Books

3.  Editor Connie Hsu:   The Road Less Traveled: Choosing Diversity.”

10:45 Break

11:00-12:00 Breakouts  (you choose one)

1.  Author/Illustrator EB Lewis: For all Illustrators (picture book writers, too!) “The Hook of the Book” PART TWO

(Please note: You do not have to attend part one to attend part two.)

2.   Agent Kirsten Hall: “PB: How to Market and Pitch Them

3.  Editor Kate Sullivan: “Guide to MG/YA Genre Fiction

12:00-12:45 Lunch 

12:45-1:00 Announce 2016 Mentee Winner & 2016 Mentor Jennifer Brown, PAL Recognition Slideshow

1:15-4:15- Intensives (you choose one)

1.  Illustrators (picture book writers, too!): “The Hook of the Book” Part THREE E.B. Lewis

(Please note: You can attend this intensive with E.B. Lewis, even if you did not attend part one and part two.)

2.  Picture Book Intensive for Authors led by Peggy Archer, Kirsten Hall & Connie Hsu

3.  Middle Grade & Young Adult Authors led by Jennifer Brown, Brianne Johnson, & Kate Sullivan

4:15-4:30 Break

4:30-5:15 Authors: First Five Lines with Hall, Hsu, Johnson & Sullivan in Main Conference Room.      Illustrators: Postcard Evaluations with EB Lewis

This is always a fun day and I’m looking forward to the variety of things I’m sure to learn.  If you are interested, you can find more information here.

–SueBE

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