One Writer’s Journey

June 23, 2017

Story First, Theme Second

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:28 am
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I’ve come across another example of a picture book that delivers a theme but does so without preaching.  If you are a picture book author, you need to read BunnyBear by Andrea J. Loney.

BunnyBear is a bear.  He can roar.  He can stomp.  He’s big and strong and furry.  But when he’s alone he likes to hop and eat strawberries. The other bears give him a hard time so he sets off to find someplace to be BunnyBear. When he sees a bunny, he follows it and scootches his way down into the warren.  It isn’t a flawless procedure and he is asked to leave by an older bunny.  But he is followed out by . . . she may look like a bunny but she is big and ferocious and has quite a roar.  She calls herself Grizzlybun.  Just to cement the lesson, BunnyBear has this to say to Grizzlybun. “You just look one way on the outside and feel another way on the inside. That’s okay.”

I don’t think you need banners and protests to know this is a book about gender fluidity but the cool thing?  It never says it.  Not once.

That makes it a great book for any kid who has ever felt like he or she did not fit in.  “What’s so great about that?” you ask.

That makes the book more marketable which, in the end, makes the book easier to sell.  If an editor or publisher doesn’t predict a strong enough interest level or see the possibility for a large enough market share, they are going to pass on your manuscript.  No matter how well written it is.

Something else that works in this books favor is the humor.  This may be a book about inclusion and being true to yourself, both serious topics, but it is also funny.  The images of BunnyBear squeezing through the runs into the warren are a hoot!  And then you have Grizzlybun looking oh so fierce as she stomps around BunnyBear.

This book puts the story before the theme of inclusion and does so in such a way that it becomes much more salable.  It is definitely a title we all need to study.

–SueBE

June 22, 2017

Focus: When You Need to Write

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:07 am
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This past week has been a bit of a writing night mare.  I have writing to do.  Some of it I want to do. Some of it I have to do because deadlines are involved.  But I am just barely meeting those deadlines and I’m doing it with no wiggle room to speak of.  My focus has been, to put it politely, shot.  To prove that point, I went online to find information about the topic and came up on this handy-dandy infographic.

As is so often the case with something like this, all of these solutions are not THE solution at any given time.  But as I looked this over a few things jumped out.

Turn off the phone.  I’ve been trying to work with my cell phone nearby for a variety of personal reasons.  But my phone loves to buzz at me when someone comments on Facebook or when I get an e-mail.  Heaven forbid someone actually try to reach me.  And Amber Alerts?  They are important but I think I may have fractured my kneecap.  The phone needs to stay in my purse while I’m working.

Shut Off Everything You Are Not Using.  Um, yeah.  That’s a lot like my phone and embarrassingly true lately.

Time yourself.  This one works really well when I have vast stretches of time.  When I have a day to work, it is amazing how much time I can piddle away.  But when I set that timer, I write.

I this point, I think shutting things off is the best way for me to go right now.  It doesn’t help that certain people know when I’m at my desk and message me.  It also doesn’t help that I”m a compulsive message checker.  If there is a text or Facebook message waiting, I’m compelled to check it.

So if you can’t reach me today – there’s a reason for that.  I’m a writer.  I need to write.

–SueBE

 

June 21, 2017

Balance in Nonfiction

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:30 am
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When you write educational nonficiton for young readers, you aren’t generally trying to sell one side of the story. Instead, you are laying out the facts so that your readers can make up their own minds. For some books, that isn’t particularly difficult. The Zika Virus isn’t so much a pro and con kind of story. I just had to make sure to get the facts straight.  I learned a lot about viruses and vectors writing this one.
 
For other books, including Black Lives Matter, the potential biases are more obvious. The title was enough to convince some people that the book was pro-Black Lives Matter.  They sent hate mail without ever reading a page.  Of course, they called me both an “angry black woman” and a “race traitor,” so it was pretty easy to write them off as deeply confused.  
But even books like Women in Science offered the potential for bias. And I’m not talking about either anti-feminist or Grrrl Power biases. One of the biggest issues was avoiding some of our biased attitudes about the science itself.  Nonscientists want there to be clean breaks between physics and mathematics and astronomy.  Scientists go where their research passions take them.  They might have a chemistry degree and work in astronomy.  Whatever!  The problem was my own in trying to decide which chapter was the best fit for each scientist.
 
My latest project is Pro/Con on the Electoral College. Not only am I acknowledging both sides, I have to seek them out and achieve balance. There are three “pro” chapters and three “con” chapters.  Still I did catch a few issues in how I had worded things in my outline.  There were a few places where my own biases were pretty obvious.  I’ve just turned in my outline so I’ll have to see if my editor thinks I’ve found middle ground or if I need to skew a bit more one way or the other.  If she finds a problem, I’m pretty sure I know what it will be!
–SueBE

June 20, 2017

Back It Up: Saving Your Bacon

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 2:19 am
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Running a back up can save your bacon…mmm, bacon.

Recently I read a post over on InkyGirl.com, the blog of writer/illustrator Debbie Ridpath Ohi, where she talked about a routine update erasing a large number of her illustration files.  If she hadn’t had a full back up system in place she would have lost file after file.  Imagine watching files disappearing from your hard drive literally right before your eyes.

Um, how long had it been since I did a back up?

It only takes a few minutes to run the back up on each blog.  If you’ve never done that, just go to Tools, select Export.  Then you have to select what to export whether it be full content, comments or specific pages.  I back up my entire content.

But then came the real shock.  When I asked my husband how to find the back up for my hard drive, he looked at me like I’d lost my mind.  “It’s in the external hard drive. Norton does it automatically.  Just click on the program to find out when.”

Umm, right.  Apparently the latest version of Norton only has that feature if you pay for the upgrade for Premium.  Glad I found that out now.  Still not super duper happy with Norton.

Double check that back up plan!

–SueBE

June 19, 2017

Plot and Subplot: Using One to Strengthen the Other

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:28 am
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Okay, this entire post is going to be littered with plot spoilers so if you haven’t read David Baldacci’s The Fix you may just want to come back later.  Although I normally listen to his work on audiobook, I took the opportunity to read this one and found a novel that uses the subplot to strengthen various points in the plot.

Let the plot spoilers begin!   You were warned.  No, seriously.  I did warn you.

Amos Decker is walking up toward the entrance to FBI headquarters when he sees a man shoot a woman in the back of the head.  Before Decker can reach the man, he shoots himself committing suicide.  From this point to the end of the book Decker and his cohorts are trying to figure out what happened.  Why did this FBI contractor kill a woman he seemingly had no connection to?  Why do it outside FBI headquarters?  Could this man have been a spy, unbeknownst to his wife and daughters?

As they gather information they come up with more and more questions.  Eventually the realize that a family member was in trouble and this gave the bad guys the leverage they needed to turn the contractor into a killer.

But the FBI makes some mistakes as they gather the information.  They make assumptions concerning the roles of men vs the roles of women.  Because of these mistakes, not everything makes sense and it takes them time to fill in the blanks.  But the mistakes that they make in the subplot (how did the bad guys get him involved) are mirrored by the mistakes that they make in the main plot (was there a connection between the murderer and his victim.

Because the same mistakes are made at both levels, it strengthens the themes and the plot points surrounding the assumptions we as a society make regarding gender roles.

Everything is layered and nuanced if you can use your plot and subplot to mirror plot points, errors, and themes.  Try it and see if your story doesn’t feel tighter and more cohesive.

–SueBE

 

June 16, 2017

Not Everyone Agrees: Culture Determines so Much

People seem to take a wide range of beliefs for granted.  Some of them involve right and wrong ranging from the belief that everyone agrees on what is rig ht and wrong to the contrary idea that “we” are the only ones who have it right.  Principals of science, food and so much more are matters of taste.

But so are the values that we assign to colors.  This is part of the reason that I’m amazed when picture books can be translated without altering the illustrations.  We think of red as a color for warnings.  STOP!  LOOK OUT!  But in China it symbolizes wealth which rather contradicts the whole “warning” notion unless you are warning people NOT to prosper.

Any-who, color and the meanings attached to them are something you need to consider whether you are writing about another true-to-life culture or making up one of your own.

Take a look at this chart and see if there is something you might want to change.

–SueBE

June 15, 2017

Rewriting: Cutting those Precious Scenes

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:28 am
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“Be willing to kill your darlings.”

In any other vocation, that advice would raise eyebrows but as a writer it is pretty straight forward.  You have to be willing to cut excess verbage.  And most of us don’t have any problem with that.  We are perfectly willing to cut a word here or a phrase there.

But we hesitate when it comes time to cut several paragraphs, a sidebar, a scene or a chapter. It took so long to weave those sentences together.  So very long.  ::whimper::

This was the situation I found myself in as I rewrote Advertising Overload earlier this week.  Somehow, I had written sidebars on what an infomercial is in both chapter 2 and chapter 5.  And the two weren’t even substantially different.  It was pretty easy for me to decide which one had to go.  But then I also realized that the ending of chapter 3 too closely mirrored the beginning of chapter 4.  It meant having to cut an entire page or about three paragraphs.

Oh. So. Painful.

When I have to delete a block of paragraphs, a scene or a chapter, I’ve found something that helps.  I don’t highlight and then delete.  Instead I cut the passages that need to go and then I paste them into a new file.  Yep, I save them.  That way if it turns out that this section really was essential than I still have it.  All I have to do is go to the correct file and copy then paste it back into my manuscript.

On a good day, I call this file “cuttings” or “stuff.”  That’s usually when I ‘m cutting a few paragraphs.  If, on the other hand, I’m cutting a scene or chapter, I’m much more likely to come up with a vaguely impolite name but I definitely save it.  It makes it a lot easier to cut things if I know that they aren’t really gone.  They’re just out of the way.

The amazing thing?  I almost never go back to this file so that I can restore something.  It just makes it easier to do what is essential.

–SueBE

June 14, 2017

What Kids Want

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:20 am
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This past Saturday (June 10, 2017), I had the opportunity to hear about what kids like to read from a group of librarians.  If you ever get an opportunity like this, take it!   This group was especially valuable because both Jill Burkemper and Donna Mork Reed are writers.  Burkemper is a grade school librarian and Reed is with the St. Louis County Library system. That made for a great mix.  Here are five interesting things I learned.

 

Kids love animal books.  Love them.  It doesn’t matter if it is a book about animals, ie nonfiction, or a book with animal characters.  This wasn’t just picture books either but also books for older readers.  Kids who have troubles connecting with books seem to be able to connect with animal characters.

There are always fun books that just aren’t good for story time.  You might consider this if your books tend to play well in the libraries.  Especially problematic are books where characters get eaten such as I Yam a Donkey and A Hungry Lion.  I have to admit that these never ever struck me as problematic because my son LOVED things like this.

That said, there are great selections for story time.  Librarians look for things where young listeners can guess what happens next or where they get to make animal noises.  Who doesn’t love to howl like a wolf?  Twist endings are always crowd favorite and so are lessons.  That said, lessons have to be worked into the story.  No preaching allowed!

The librarians wish they could find more books on non-primary holidays  like President’s Day.  Also life events.  I though

t that was interesting since editors always tell you that they get way too many books about the first day of school, first loose tooth, etc., but librarians need and love these books.

 

For a fun sampling of e-books, those of us who have St. Louis Country library cards can access Tumble Books.  Just log into the library site, scroll down the listing at the right and click on eMedia.  Then scroll down the page and click Tumble Books.  You can then select books by age or type such as nonfiction.  A book can be read to the reader or you can select read along.  Interesting to see the various resources available.

I am definitely reprioritizing some of writing projects based on what these ladies had to say.  I mean it – if you get the chance to hear from librarians, take advantage of their knowledge.  You won’t regret it.

–SueBE

June 13, 2017

2017 Hornbook Awards

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 3:47 am
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Although the award was announced at the end of May, I’ve yet to see a post on all three awards.  So without further ado, the Boston Globe Horn Book awards for 2017 are:
NONFICTION AWARD WINNER:

Vincent and Theo: The Van Gogh Brothers by Deborah Heiligman (Godwin Books/Henry Holt/Macmillan). Sue here: I’m usually pretty good about spotting up and coming nonfiction but I didn’t see any buzz on this book.  The good news is that I’ve requested it but I’m in line.  I love to see that an award winner is circulating!

Nonficiton Honor Books:

Undefeated: Jim Thorpe and the Carlisle Indian School Football Team by Steve Sheinkin (Roaring Brook Press/Macmillan).  I just wrote about Carlisle in my DAPL book so I’m curious about this one.  Will have to check it out.

Some Writer!: The Story of E. B. White written and illustrated by Melissa Sweet (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt).  Loved this.  Here is a link to my review

 

FICTION AND POETRY AWARD WINNER:

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas (Balzer + Bray/HarperCollins).  I saw plenty of buzz on this one but it has been consistently checked out with a hefty waiting list.  Yay!  

Fiction and Poetry Honor Books:

One Last Word: Wisdom from the Harlem Renaissance written by Nikki Grimes, illustrated by various artists (Bloomsbury Publishing). I don’t remember seeing anything on this but I do love Nikki Grimes work.  

The Best Man by Richard Peck (Dial Books for Young Readers/Penguin Young Readers/Penguin Random House).  Loved this book.  Loved.  It.  Link to my review.  I had heard some bad things about this book but they turned out to be wholly unfounded.  I think that the issue was simply that it the subject is somewhat different from his older books but the characters are 100% Richard Peck.

 

PICTURE BOOK AWARD WINNER:

Freedom Over Me: Eleven Slaves, Their Lives and Dreams Brought to Life written and illustrated by Ashley Bryan (Caitlyn Dlouhy Books/Atheneum Books for Young Readers/Simon & Schuster).  So many great books on this list.  See my review.

Picture Book Honor Books:

Wolf in the Snow written and illustrated by Matthew Cordell (Feiwel & Friends/Macmillan).  Although I knew the book that won this award, I’m not familiar with either honor book. So happy to be able to request them from the library!

Town Is by the Sea written by Joanne Schwartz, illustrated by Sydney Smith (Groundwood Books/House of Anansi Press)

Hope you all enjoy reading some of these titles!  There’s always something to learn by reading an award winner.

–SueBE

June 12, 2017

New Book: Coming In July

 

Take a gander at my latest book cover!  Professional Gaming Careers comes out in July from Norwood Press.

 

Going head-to-head with a group of friends can be a lot of fun. But beating the best gamers in the world can lead to fame and fortune. The growth of E-Sports has put professional gamers on the same stage once occupied solely by athletes. Competitions, sponsorship, and live streams are all part of a lucrative career as a professional gamer.Video games aren’t just a hobby any more. E-Sports is on the rise and reaching people of all ages. This series looks at 4 facets of competitive video gaming: the industry, the careers, the game development, and the competition. Each book contains fast facts and in-depth sidebars, plus a glossary, an index, and places to go for more information. E-Sports: Game On! is a great mix of high-interest content with STEM connections.”

 

This book was a lot of fun to write but I also discovered something interesting.  My son and his friends and people their age were really excited about this particular project.  People my age?  “Is that a job?”

And this is why you need to know your audience.

 

So looking forward to seeing this one in print. It is always interesting to see

 

how my various publishers design a book.  So if you’ll excuse me, I have several weeks to watch for the mail carrier.

–SueBE

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