One Writer’s Journey

October 26, 2016

Choosing a Title

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:37 am
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surprise-one-handedHad a really interesting experience with an image search Monday.  I was looking for the cover image of the picture book “Peeking Under the Street.”  Me being me, I’m a bit lazy.  So I didn’t add the author’s name.  I didn’t even add the word cover.  I just clicked image search and Enter and . . .

Oh, my heavenly host.  What the hell is going on here?

Let’s just say that this pulled up something about a particular area in Las Vegas that seems to be upper garment optional, unless you count paisties as garments.  Some of the people may have been “working women,” a polite euphamism my grandmother used.  Others were clearly tourists.

I don’t know about you, but I would not want some kid to type up the name of my book and get an eye-full of bossom.  If it was sculpture and painting I wouldn’t care but this was VEGAS and although some of the people seemed very friendly it was not child-friendly if you get my drift.

My point?  When you come up with a title for your book, do a Google search.  Do it on a computer that doesn’t have Net Nanny because you need the worst case scenario.  And don’t just to a Google search, do a Google Image Search.  I’ve done this before and pulled up something that looked like the gore-filled image from a slasher film.  It was something by some Death Metal band but, again, not what I want my readers to find when they’re looking for me.  Another search turned up a competing book.  I don’t want that either so I tried title #3.

Take the time to search your book titles.  You need to find competing titles but you also need to know if a search would pull up things that aren’t appropriate for your audience.


October 25, 2016

When Someone Writes Your Book

A lot of the blogs I read feature children’s books.  That’s part of the reason that my library bag is constantly overflowing.  I see a book peeking-under-the-citythat intrigues me and I request it. But the other day I saw one that really rocked me back.  It looked like my book, or at least my idea.

I’ve been playing around with a dual story line picture book for a while now.  Part of my issue has been trying to settle the story line.  Part of the issue has been trying to do the research.  When I saw Peeking Under the City by Esther Porter, my first thought wasn’t “Wow, what a great book.”  It was much closer to “oh, no.”

The thing is that this is bound to happen.  Ideas don’t develop in a vacuum. They are the result of various external stimulus which are then churned around in your brain. But you aren’t the only one who has the stimulus.  You and someone else are bound to have remarkably similar ideas.  A friend of mine wrote an excellent book about an underground city right before The City of Ember came out.  We had already critiqued his manuscript and he had started to send it out.  The two books were so similar that it was spooky.

And that’s the first thing to do.  Get the other book and read it.  I’m sitting here with a library copy of Peeking Under the City.  It’s a fun piece of nonfiction about the various things that lie underground in a city.  Porter covers everything from utilities and trains to building foundations and fossils.  This is nothing like my idea or at least only very tangentially.  I am so relieved!

If the idea is very close to your own, you have to decide if you want to finish your book.  While I don’t want to tell you “don’t bother,” you do need to seriously look at the competition.  If it is very like your own idea, the two will be in direct competition.  Quite frankly, if the other book is flawed, that’s no big deal.  Plot holes and flat character may leave you enough room to maneuver.

But if it is a top-notch book, written for the same audience, by a big name author?  Then you have some tough decisions to make.


October 24, 2016

An Interesting Life Feeds Makes for Interesting Writing

cabin-and-truck“An Interesting Life Feeds Makes for Interesting Writing.”  When you saw that title, whose life did you think that I meant?

Maybe you first thought of the character’s life.  Certainly a character with an interesting life will be more fun to write (and read) about than a character who sits on the sofa, plays video games and eats chips.  Snore!

What I actually meant was that when a writer has an interesting life, it makes for interesting stories.

Lately, I’ve been doing the prep-work for NaNoWriMo.  I’ve finished half of my character interviews and I’ve scrapbooked the characters and settings.  This means that I’ve been doing a lot of research.

Google Image is my friend.  I’ve collected photos of historic iron mines, miners cabins, ghost towns, and a deserted mansion.  There are photos of Lon Sanders canyon, iron ore and old timey mercantile stores.  All of these things came into the story intentionally.

But as I was searching cabins (my main character has to live someplace!), I had an epiphany.  I needed exterior dairyimages but I needed to know the layout as well.  A number of interior artifacts would also be useful.  Where oh where could I find these things together.  Then it hit me.  My father-in-law has helped restored a log cabin.  In is now set up as a museum complete with wood burning stoves, a spinning wheel, and a kitchen.  Seriously, I can be so dense at times.  That’s a photo of the cabin and our truck, both restored by my father-in-law. Thank goodness I have such interesting people in my life!

Then something completely unexpected crept into the story.  What do they grow on this farm?  Originally, the farm where this cabin stands, included tobacco fields.  We know this because there is a tobacco barn.  My mother died of lung cancer and my father has COPD.  Yeah, I already really like this character and she is not going to grow tobacco.  Besides, I’ve moved the cabin to slightly different geography that is far too rocky for tobacco but there are cattle aplenty.

Guess where my family went this weekend? The photo to the right is my son drinking a soda in a calf barn.  We went to a local organic creamery.  Now, in my story, the Wilkersons keep dairy cattle and, by the end of the book, will be working towards having a full-fledged dairy.  I so did not see that coming and will have to go back to the real dairy (oh woe is me!), take the official tour and do some delicious research.

Spend time with interesting people.  Go interesting places.  Do interesting things.  They will find their way into your stories.



October 21, 2016

Fiction: The Truth at the Core

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:17 am

gaiman-quoteI have to admit that I always considered the dichotomy pretty clear-cut.  Nonfiction was true.  Fiction was made up.  Then I saw this quote from Neil Gaiman.

The funny thing is that I’ve probably seen this quote before.  After all, Neil Gaiman gets quoted fairly often and I like his work so I pay attention when someone quotes him.  So in spite of the fact that I’ve probably seen this before, it didn’t click until yesterday.

Maybe it’s because I’ve been doing all the pre-writing to get ready for NaNoWriMo. I tend to be a pretty seat-of-the-pants writer when it comes to fiction which may well be why, at some point, I always bog down on fiction projects.  There just comes a point when some internal contradiction or plot Grand-Canyon makes itself known and I can’t see a way around it and a quit.

This time I’ve been working with my characters and noodling over their relationships with each other.  I’ve been making up artifacts, considering the system of government (highly dysfunctional for the have-nots) and today I’m finally outlining the plot.

Maybe it has something to do with all of the pre-writing and the fact that I’m must more familiar with my characters and the story world than ever before.  Maybe that’s why.  But the funny thing is that I know what the theme is.  I never know what the theme is before I start writing.  N-E-V-E-R.  But this time I do.  And, you know what?  It is the central truth in the story.

My story is fiction. I’ve made up the people.  I’ve made up the world.  I’m working on their culture.  But the theme — it is one of those Big Truths in life.  Fiction may be, as Gaiman briefly put it, a lite. But it is a lie that some how, some way reveals a central truth.  Or at least it does if it is well written.


October 20, 2016

Author’s Copies! Women in History Have Arrived

women-in-historyAbout 30 minutes after we had finished dinner my son tossed a comment back over his shoulder as he left the room.  “Oh, yeah.  They delivered your books.”

“What books?”

“Your books, Mom.”

“Why didn’t you tell me?”

“You were on the treadmill.”  Granted, I’d been off the treadmill for slightly more than an hour and a half but my son and husband found this perfectly reasonable.  Of course, I pretty much blew my credibility because, at that point, I spun around and tripped over a pair of wet shoes someone had left by the front door.  Someone.  They were, coincidentally, my sandals.

The last 24 hours had been more than a little book crazy.  At almost 10 pm, I got a rewrite request.  I’ve been waiting for a rewrite request but this wasn’t from the same author.  It seems that the publisher had reviewed this particular book after it had gone through design.  He wanted changes and I can’t say that I disagree.  They will definitely improve the whole.  But that’s not what I was expecting to work on today.

Fortunately, I got the changes in and then had another e-mail.  Rewrite request?  Nope.  Just letting me know that I’d have it in about a week.

Then we had dinner and then I found out my books had arrived.  Aren’t they fantastic?  That’s Women in Sports to the left and Women in Science  to the right.  I have to say that the book design is quite nice and I was surprised by how many of the photographs I recognized from Women in Sports.  They didn’t ask for suggestions so they independently picked out photos I found while researching the topic.

The only book for which I’ve made photo suggestions so far has been Ancient Maya.  That was tricky because they couldn’t always get the photos I had found and had to use something else.  Since I had also written photo captions, that meant having to rewrite photo captions.  That’s one of the things about series writing.  I submit my best possible manuscript, incorporating changes they requested based on the outline.  They read my manuscript and all of the others in the series.  They ask for changes, sometimes because a topic was extensively covered in another book.

Speaking of which, I wonder what changes they’ll want on the last manuscript?  Until I find out, I’ll have to find something else to do.  Maybe I should start by putting up my shoes?


October 19, 2016

Sit and Write as Jane Yolen: How to Approach Your Writing

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:24 am
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typewriterAbout two weeks ago, I blogged about taking classes online.  The first class I attempted turned into a ball of frustration as I tried to locate, sans links, the course site and readings.  Because I take these classes for FUN, I quickly gave up and moved to the next course.  Creative Writing: A Master Class for which I downloaded the itunes app.

The first lecture was given by playwright August Wilson.  Wilson discusses his efforts to have his work accepted so that he could attend the National Playwrights conference.  Wilson described writing several plays only to have them rejected one by one.  It wasn’t until his fourth or fifth effort that his work was accepted.

What did he do differently that time around?  He says that that was when he realized that he was sitting in the same writing chair as Tennessee Williams and as Ibsen.  An unknown with no plays to his credit, he was in the exact same position that they were when they sat down to write.  He had to figure out how to get actors onto the stage and all of the other things that have to be accomplished in a play.

He had to do these things but so did the greats.

Think about your own writing.  Are you writing picture books like Jane Yolen?  Maybe you are writing early readers like Arnold Lobel.  Me?  Some day s I write nonfiction like James Cross Giblin.  I’m getting ready to work on a middle grade novel just like Bruce Coville.

No matter what you write, you are doing the same thing as the luminaries in your field.  You have the same goal.  You have similar tools.

Will this realization change how you write?  So often we are told to remember that we are in competition with every book that is in print.  Your work has to be that good or better or it will never see print.  And, that’s true enough.

But Wilson has definitely hit on something.  As soon as you sit down to write, or stand at an easel to paint, you have the same goals and the same means to get there as the greats.

You just need to make the work your own.  How about them apples? (To quote my grandmother.)


October 18, 2016

Characterization: Prewriting to the Extreme

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:18 am
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When author K.M. Weiland interviews her characters, she asks them a wide variety of questions including the name of their favorite book. As I started doing this for my main character, Clem, my first thought was that she wouldn’t have a favorite book.  She is definitely working class and poor.  She doesn’t have much time for things like books.

Then I started to wonder if I was taking the easy way out.  My grandfather graduated with a degree in Mining Engineering just as many of the mines in the US were playing out.  Because of this, he took any job he could find.  Sometimes he was head mining engineer for the mercury mines in Terlingua, Texas.  Other times he ran a filling station.  My grandmother used chicken feed sacks to make clothing.  Pretty sacks became dresses focrisscrossing-the-galaxyr the girls.  Ugly sacks were destined to be underwear.  They were definitely foundation-stonesworking class and poor but they had books.

So what kind of books would kids on a mining planet have access to?  Especially working class kids? What would there be and what would they want?

Fortunately, I collect old books, snatching them up whenever I see them at a yard sale, rummage sale or book sale.  I was able to base these two books on actual texts in my collection.  One is my character’s favorite book because her older brother read it to her.  The other is the kind of book her step father wants her to read.  It should be pretty obvious which is which.

I’m not going to be able to put this much effort into every crumb of material culture but having put the effort into creating these “books,” even if I really only made the covers, I feel like I know my characters a bit better.

I better hustle though so that I’ll be ready to start working on the novel in two weeks.  Fingers crossed!






October 17, 2016

Novel Writing: What to Know Before You Start

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 3:26 am
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prewritingWhen I came across this checklist, it was billed as NaNoWriMo prep.  “Do these things and you’ll be ready to rock.”  Admittedly, that’s why I’m doing them right now but if they are good prep for NaNoWriMo then they are good prep to write a novel.  Period.  So what is on this amazing checklist? I’m going to just touch on each of these points and then go into detail in other posts.

  1. Write your premise sentence.  The premise is a summary of what your novel is about.  It goes beyond the bare bones concept to include a bit about the protagonist, their general situation and what they are working on before they get sucked into whatever your story is about. As if all of that wasn’t enough, you have to include your protagonist, what disaster gets the plot moving and the conflict between these two characters.  I’ve already blogged about the premise here.
  2. Work with your characters.  I’ve already started this in my scrapbook.  I know how they look and how they dress. I know some of what they like.  I have some backstory.  I did not do detailed interviews.  I should address that and I’ll write another post on characters when I do.  I also need to consider the character arc for each one.
  3. Work with your plot.  You are going to have to make sure you’ve addressed any plot holes, added a few twists so that your story isn’t business and usual and identified all of your plot points from the inciting incident to the climax.
  4. Details your plot.  It isn’t enough to know vaguely what is going on.  Before you start writing, you will need an outline composed of all of the scenes that get your from one plot point to another.  Yep.  Scenes.  You may need 3 scenes to address one plot point.
  5. Explore your settings. When we plow through a novel manuscript, it is easy to slight the setting and leave your characters wondering around some place that is a bit gray and amorphous.  Avoid this by exploring your setting ahead of time  Some writers create setting folders.  I’m doing this in my scrapbook, colleting images for each setting.

It sure looks like a lot of work, doesn’t it?  But I’m fairly confident that once it is done, I will be ready to write that novel.



October 14, 2016

New Publishing Opportunities: St. Martin’s Press Launches a Crossover Imprint

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:02 am
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wednesday-booksMacmillan’s St Martin’s Press (SMP) is launching a new imprint — Wednesday Books. Publisher Jennifer Enderlin will publish YA and adult titles that focus on coming-of-age themes but are also “dynamic and exciting.”

The imprint is looking for both fiction and nonfiction that is described as “bold, diverse, and commercial.” Readers who are attracted to their books will be those looking for YA and beyond.

The first titles in this new imprint are scheduled for Fall 2017.  Ultimately, the imprint will publish 10–20 books/year.  This imprint will be the home, from here on out, of all SMP YA titles.

Editorial Director Sara Goodman, who has worked with both Rainbow Rowell and Courtney Summers, will edit and acquire adult and YA titles for the imprint.

I couldn’t find any more than this but will keep my eyes open.


October 13, 2016

Editing Your Manuscript: Reading Level

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 12:43 am
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Why oh why can’t I get the reading level down?

Remember that optimistic estimate I had that it would take me three hours to finish the manuscript?  It was a lot closer to five. The biggest problem that I faced was bringing things to the correct reading level.

When I write for Red Line, I use the ATOS grade level calculator.  My goal for this book was a reading level of 7.0 to 8.5.  I don’t test the entire manuscript, preferring to test each chapter.  I do it this way because my Red Line editors are really good at spotting reading level problems.  If one chapter is off, they will catch it.  I’d much rather spot the problem without any help.

Yesterday I had finished the hard copy edits and just needed to make the changes and then test each chapter.  The first one was 8.8.  The second one was 9.0.  Thankfully the third one was 8.5.

How was I so off in one chapter.  In part because it had a section on Colin Kaepernick.  It wouldn’t be so bad if his last name was Colin because I could use that throughout most of the section.  But oh, no.  Kaepernick.  Kaepernick does frightening things to your reading level.  Not as frightening as Maya place names but bad enough.

I’ve seen some people recommend substituting Bob for such a name.  Bob is a nice low reading level.  The problem is that Kaepernick is going to be in the book.  It has to work with Keapernick in the manuscript.

Fortunately, there are several  ways to bring down the reading level.

First things first, look at your sentence structure.  No semicolons.  None.  Break down compound sentences.  Phrases are okay but don’t join two perfectly legitimate sentences with AND or BUT.  You don’t want the entire manuscript to be composed of simple sentences but if you can get rid of a complex sentence per page, that will drop the reading level by .2 or .3.

Second, don’t forget to look for passive construction.  That tends to make your sentences wordier.  “The boy hit the ball” vs “The ball was hit by the boy.”

Third, simplify some of the vocabulary.  Look for multisyllable words that can be replaced by shorter words.  Want replaces prefer.  Use takes the place of operate.

Of course, if your reading level is too low, you do the opposite, except for the semicolon (publisher’s preference).

And whenever you’ve been tinkering with the reading level, reread the section out loud.  You want to be certain it is still a smooth read.



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