One Writer’s Journey

May 18, 2018

Writing Retreat: See You on Monday

It has been a while since I got to go to writer’s retreat.  As much as I love events that focus on writing, retreats are my favorite.

A big part of it is that I get my own room.  I know – it sounds trivial, doesn’t it?  But I’m an introvert who works at home.  I’m used to a certain amount of time without other people around.  Workshops, conferences, and retreats are great for all the ideas and information that come my way, but they are also tough because of the amount of time I’m around other people.

But at this particular event participants get their own rooms.  This means that I can go in my room and work without interruption.  If I don’t care if someone interrupts me, I can prop my door open.  There are also plenty of public places where you can situate yourself if you want to chat.

Pacing yourself is hugely important for an introvert at an event.

Other than that, I’d recommend that you take Judy Blume’s words of wisdom to heart.  Most of us go to an event knowing that we need help with something specific.  It might be the pacing of a manuscript or knowing how to approach an editor.  Get the help you need but don’t forget to just listen.  There is so much wisdom to be had if you poised to hear it.

And if you aren’t hearing what you need?  Ask questions.

Pacing yourself doesn’t just mean spending time in your room.  It also means interacting with your fellow participants.  I’ve worked for Children’s Writer newsletter and RedLine Editorial because of connections that I made at writing events.  Get to know people and you will have connections that can help you get your foot in the door.

Have a great weekend and next week I’ll share some of what I learn this weekend.




May 16, 2018

Library of Congress: Benjamin Franklin collection now online

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:38 am
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If you write either historical fiction or nonfiction, you need to become familiar with the Library of Congress.  Their holdings are vast and they are making an effort to make more available online.  Their digital collections can be found here and encompass social history, music and invention.

The newest collection to make its way into the digital universe are the Benjamin Franklin Papers. Click through and you can view approximately 8,000 most of which are from the 1770s and 1780s. The collection includes both his work in politics and his work in science and although not all of it is online, this is a start.

Additional collections include:

Alexander Bell Family Papers: The online collection contains about 51,500 images of correspondence, scientific notebooks,  blueprints, and more.

After the Day of Infamy: These man-on-the-street interviews were recorded following the attack on Pearl Harbor.  The collection consists of 12 hours total although I’m not sure how much has been digitized.

Ansel Adam’s Photographs of Japanese-American Internment at Manzanar : I just recently learned about these photos so I was excited to see that they can be found at the Library of Congress.

Explore the various collections and you will find sheet music, film, and more.  Keep in mind that just because the material is available does not mean there is no copyright.  But often the Library does not own the copyright so if you want to use an image in your work you may have to go through the effort of contacting the copy right holder.

Personally, that isn’t a problem for me because I tend to use the material here as inspiration.  What would it be like to be a professional woman, a Red Cross instructor, interred at Manzanar?  How natural were Curtis’ Native American portraits and how staged?  Why would they have been staged?  If they were, are they still valuable.

The next time you are stuck for something to write about, spend some time in the collections of the Library of Congress.


May 15, 2018

Rules Are Rules: Setting Up Your Fantasy or SF World

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:49 am
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On Mother’s Day we saw an independent film. A friend described it to me as non-gross post-apocalyptic story. Gotcha.  Science fiction. Post-apocalypse.

After watching it, I looked up the description.  “A young couple wake up one morning to discover every person on Earth has disappeared. The two must struggle to survive while unravelling what forces are at work.”  First things first, be careful when you write your description.  If every person disappears that either means that a young couple is no longer there and will not be waking up or they are not human.

I don’t think that was the case but please.  I know you don’t want to reveal all in your description but please make sure it is accurate.

The tough thing about writing science fiction and fantasy is that your story world has got to have rules.  Has. Got. To. Have. Rules.  I can’t emphasize that enough.

If everyone but one specific couple disappears, there has got to be a reason.  You can’t do it just to be spooky or strange.  You can’t do it just to trap them together and see how they play out as a couple.  That’s what desert islands are for.  Nope.  There has got to be a reason.

And if they find someone else once, we are going to expect it to happen again.  Why?  Because you’ve set it up as possible.  And it might provide a clue as to how and why everyone else vanished.

My husband says that it is really funny that someone as legalistic as I am loves fantasy and science fiction.  Loves them.  I really do.  But it also means that I expect you the author/director/goof with a camera to follow your own rules.

These rules are a contract with your reader/viewer.  If you violate these rules whenever it suits you, they lose all meaning.

You don’t have to reveal all to the reader.  In fact the author should always know many things that are never stated in the story.  But the author still has to know.  Otherwise things seem random and more than a little pointless.  Kind of like wearing a designer outfit when you are the only person left on earth.



May 14, 2018

Writing: Weed Things out to Make Time

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:49 am
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The 5 Minutes a Day posts that I’ve been putting up most Fridays are all about fitting writing into your day.  You don’t need huge blocks of time to get something done.

But you do need time.  And that can mean reevaluating your schedule and either cutting back or letting some things go.

January and February were great months.  We went to the Art Museum and a hockey game and a new-to-me bookstore.  March and April were full of deadlines.  That’s good because this is how I make my living.  But I’m coming into mid-May really stressed and taking people’s heads off.  So far, I’ve only done it figuratively but to keep it from becoming a reality I’m having to reevaluate my schedule.  Here are some of the decisions that I’ve made.

Yoga stays.  Two mornings a week, I go to yoga class.  I do not miss yoga for work.  I try to avoid missing yoga for family.  Selfish?  I’ve been told that it is but yoga helps keep my back healthy.  So, selfish or not, it stays.

But I am cutting back on some of my volunteer gigs.  One of them was a choir commitment for a church government function in 5 weeks.  Ten pieces of music and 7 rehearsals in five weeks.  Hmm.  Suddenly music went from fun to . . . what?

I’ll also be spending less time on social media which will mean fewer baby animals and inspirational quotes.

Even when you write full-time, you sometimes have to look at your time and thing what is joy-filled and what is weighing me down?  What am I eager to do every day (or every week) and what is no longer fun?

Full time writer, part-time writer, occasional writer.  It doesn’t matter how you work it into your schedule.  What matters is that you do work it in.  Weed out some of what you no longer enjoy.  Then you can fill that time and space with something you really want to do.

Hopefully, that will be writing.


May 11, 2018

5 Minutes a Day: Write Something New

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:49 am
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You may be up to your fanny in alligators – okay, grandad didn’t say fanny.  His phrase was more alliterative.  But even if you are up to your you-know-what in gators you can take 5 minutes to write something new.

In ten days, I have to write a new nonfiction book (2000 words), rewrite a nonfiction book (15,000 words), and critique 6 manuscripts.  It is, to put it mildly, going to be a race. But I’ve signed up for a May-long challenge to write something new every day.  Julie Duffy is the one running the challenge,  Obviously, Julie’s goal is to write a new short story every day for a month.   But Julie is also a practical person who knows that we each need to set our own goals.

A short story a day?  With my to-do list?  I knew that wasn’t going to happen.  But I also think that Maya Angelou is correct when she said, “You can’t use up creativity.  The more you use, the more you have.”  So I’ve been writing a poem a day.

Just to make sure that my brain understand that there are not work, I’m not keying them in at the computer. I am writing them in my journal.  I have a set of unlined pages in the back and I just pick a spot on the page and write.  Some poems run top to bottom. Sometimes I rotate the journal and write with the gutter at the top of the page.  It’s a mess but I’m just having fun.

So far I have a chant about birds, a violet haiku, a free verse poem about my never-ending pink bedroom, a morning-glory haiku, a chant about writing, and more.  They are definitely a bit of a mess but that’s okay because they are fueling my creativity in those two nonfiction books that I’m working on and the decluttering that I’ve also undertaken.  What can I say?  Creativity is driving me to get to work.  With that in mind . . . off to rewrite.



May 10, 2018

Random House: New Graphic Novel Imprint in the Works

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 2:56 am
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Random House Children’s Books recently announced the addition of a new imprint dedicated to graphic novels.  Random House Graphic will produce graphic novels for children and teens under Gina Gagliano as the imprints publishing director.

Gagliano is coming over from First Second Books where she was one of the founding staff members.  She explains that it is too early to say how many books the new imprint will produce and on what schedule but the plan is to release the first list in Fall 2019. Random House Graphic will expand on the list of graphic novels already produced by Random House Children’s Books, including:

  • Babymouse by Jennifer L. Holm and Matt Holm
  • Rickety Stitch and the Gelantinous Goo by Ben Costa and James Parks
  • Lucy & Andy Neanderthal by Jeffrey Brown
  • Hilo by Judd Winick
  • 5 Worlds by Mark Siegel and Alexis Siegel, with art by Xanthe Bouma, Matt Rockefeller, and Boya Sun

When Publisher’s Weekly asked Judith Haut, senior v-p, associate publisher of Random House Children’s Books, about the plans for these backlist titles, she said, “There’s still a lot to figure out. But no changes are planned right away. Backlist graphic novels will remain with their current editors. We have a number of editors at RHCB who are passionate about graphic novels and we want them to continue. We want to encourage collaboration and Gina is looking forward to working with all the editors at RHCB.”

I’ve always enjoyed the graphic novels that First Second produces so it will be interesting to see what they produce in the future as well as what comes out from Random House Graphics.  Getting young people to read needs to be a priority and graphic novels are one way to pull in those who enjoy visual story telling.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I feel inspired to check out a graphic novel.  Which will it be this time – Lucy & Andy or Rickety Stitch?

For more on the plans for this new imprint, check out these articles at Publisher’s Weekly, Newsaramaand The Hollywood Reporter.


May 9, 2018

Negotiating: You Don’t Have to Say Yes

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 9:59 pm
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Some of the writers I know say yes to everything their agent, editor or publisher asks.  In short order, they are unhappy because they feel like they’ve been taken advantage of.  Other writers, perhaps because they’ve seen this, say no.  Most of their publishing relationships are short term. I try to find middle ground, saying yes to some things and no to others.

If the question is about the manuscript itself, I try to always say yes.  That doesn’t mean that I make the requested change with no thought.  It is still my manuscript.  But if someone asks for a change so that the information will be more accessible to the reader?  I take a look at what they are asking.  If their solution doesn’t work, I look for one that will.

If someone asks me to make a change that will make something factually inaccurate, then I say no.

If the question involves money, again I take a look at what is being requested.  When my publisher offered me more for the same terms, I said “Yes, thank you!”  I have since discovered that very few people get that offer.  Why?  Because they say no so often that the relationship doesn’t last long enough to get a raise.

Another work for hire situation paid very little per piece but they were short enough that I could write several a day. The publisher bought enough that I could pay the phone bill every month.  I didn’t have many writing credits yet so this was a big deal.  But then the publisher came to all of us and said that she wasn’t making enough.  She wanted us to work for free.  Um. . . no.  You cannot tell me that you won’t get back to me for two weeks because you are going to your second home, this one in a vacation hot spot, and then ask me to work for free. She tried guilt.  Um, yeah.  You have two houses.  I did not change my answer.

If the point is to create a top-notch manuscript, look for a way to say yes.  You don’t have to compromise your artistic integrity but try to hear what is being said.

If the change is going to reduce your ability to pay your bills?  That’s a good time to say no.


May 8, 2018

Book Covers

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:21 am
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Normally I get really excited when I find the cover art for one of my upcoming books.  This time?  Not so much.  It isn’t the art that is the problem but the topic.

I’m not surprised anymore when RedLine asks me to write a difficult book.  But these were tough.  Part of it was the topic.  Writing about addiction is just really difficult because you have to go after stories of people’s lives falling apart.

But it is also incredibly difficult to research something like this.  Editors and publishers want statistics but accurate statistics are tough to find. First of all, there’s the matter of legality.  Police can gather statistics about the people they arrest, but not those no one even suspects.  Hospitals and treatment centers can collect data on people who seek treatment or are admitted through the ER.  But that leaves a large number of people uncounted.

Add to this the fact that everyone collecting statistics has a bias. Law enforcement wants to show they are providing an essential service as do hospitals and treatment centers.  People who are trying to legalize various drugs, including certain types of steroids, downplay potential problems.  Family members, social workers and more – they’re all biased and understandably so.

But this all contributes to the difficulty in writing about these topics and also the importance.  If a nonfiction writer has a hard time sorting out fact from fiction, so will a young person.  While I’m not excited about the cover art, I’m glad I put in the effort needed to write about these topics.


May 7, 2018

Dealing with rejection

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 3:27 am

A couple of weeks ago, someone posted in one of the groups that I participate in because she had received two rejection letters.  One from an agent and one from a publisher.  The whole thing had her really, really upset.

Here is where I reveal that I am THAT mom.  You know – the one that tells her four-year-old point-blank that people don’t always give you what you want.  And no, you don’t have the right to be devastated by the whole experience.  Rejection, my darling child and my adorable readers is a part of life.

That said some rejections hurt.  In fact, they just about flatten you.  Maybe the agent asked for a rewrite.  Or the editor requested a full after telling you how much she loved it.  Or your just tired and stressed.  Whatever.  Some rejections are harder to take than others.  But the good news is that there are ways to deal with this including these three.

Know where the piece will go next.  When you submit a piece to an editor or agent, know which publisher or agency is next on your list.  That way you aren’t getting a rejection as much as the opportunity to share your work with someone else.

Prepare a prize.  One of my friends did this and I borrowed the idea from her.  On slips of paper, she wrote gifts prizes she could win when a piece was rejected.  Put the slips in the basket or jar and then draw one when you get a rejection.  Maybe you get to go out for coffee.  Or you get to spend an hour knitting.  Or you go the movies.  Whatever, it has to be something that will make you happy.

Try to ear 100 rejections.  Another way to deal with rejections is to try to earn 100/year.  Do your market research and get your work out there, submitting to and querying agencies, publishers, magazines, etc.  Every rejection that you receive is one more step towards that goal.  If you make your goal, you could possibly reward yourself with a prize.

Rejection is a big part of writing.  You aren’t going to hear yes every time you send something in and that’s okay.  You want to grow and improve and rejection is often the nudge that we all need to do that.

What helps you deal with rejection?



May 4, 2018

Children’s Book Week: Childhood Favorites

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:43 pm
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As writers, we are often inspired by our own childhood favorites.  I loved so many books.

The Boxcar Children.  The first non-picture book that I read time and time again was probably The Boxcar Children.  I’m not sure when I discovered it, but I remember checking it out again and again in fifth grade.  I’m not sure why the librarian didn’t just get me my own copy.  I loved that the kids were independent and that they upcycled so much.  We didn’t have that word for it, my grandmother would have called it ‘making do,’ but I loved that aspect of this book.

The Borrowers.  It wasn’t until I was older that I realized that this was actually several books because mine was a hardback copy of them all.  But again I love the idea of making something out of something else and the whole hidden world  aspect.

Little House etc.  My mother and I read Laura Ingalls Wilder’s books.  Well, she started them with me and then I took off.  I was a voracious reader. We watched the tv show but I liked the books even better.  Yes, I saw the racist aspects but I saw racist people in the world around me so why would a book be any different?

The Meg Mysteries.  I adored mysteries and had to get special permission to check out the Nancy Drews from the book mobile because they were considered “teen” books.  But even more than Nancy Drew I loved the Meg Mysteries.  Not that I limited myself to these two series. I also read Trixie Belden and something to do with Alfred Hitchcock.  The Three Investigators, maybe?

Anything and everything by Marguerite Henry.  Put a horse on the cover and I would snatch it up.  Write a horse book based on fact and I’d knock someone over to get it.  The only fan letter I ever wrote was the Marguerite Henry.

The tricky thing with old favorites is that they inspire us but we can’t generally use them as mentor texts.  Why?  Publishing and literature have changed so much between now and then.  Be inspired by your childhood favorites but also read what is being published now.  Today’s children are just as hungry for great stories as we were.


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