When Life Hands You Lemons, Make Banana Bread

Photo by Sue Bradford Edwards, 2009.

In honor of the Big Inauguration and Obama’s Can-Do, Help Yourself attitude, a post about being positive.

Last week, the St. Louis weather turned wicked cold.  Wind chills in the predawn hours were about -15°F.  Before long, the hand wringing started.  “If it gets any colder, we’ll have to _________ (fill in semi-panicked plans).” 

True.  -15°F is really cold.  How to make bitter cold (lemons) into something positively toasty (banana bread).

Instant deep freeze. 

We hung my son’s ice cream cake (for winning a spelling bee) on the patio.  What if it warmed up?   Answer:  Eat the cake.  What if something got to it?  You mean like our possum?  Answer:  Hang it up.  The thing you see behind it is a wind chime.   It left the cake alone. 

What does this have to do with writing?  Plenty.

More publishers are announcing lay offs.  Magazines are going exclusively electronic.  Other publications are having troubles paying. 

If your regular writing gig has dried up, now is a good time to try something new.  A new type of writing.  A new market.  Look back at what you’ve written and sold in the past.  Is it something you’d want to write again?   

My lemon:  Test writing used to pay my bills.  I haven’t done any for months.   Maybe a year.  The new publisher I just finished a job for doesn’t have anything else for me to do. 

My banana bread:  I’ve been networking.  I sent out Christmas cards and inviting old friends to lunch.  I got a call from a friend at the university where I used to work.  A professor needed someone to create a map.  Guess how I put myself through college?  Archaeological illustration.  

An old passion and profession revisited.  

Banana bread out of lemons.

What’s your lemon?  What kind of banana bread can you make?


Permission to Write: Finding Time

Recently a writing buddy e-mailed me after checking out my site and twitterblogs.  “I just don’t have the time to figure it all out — blogs and sites and Facebook.” 

None of us do. 

I’ve drawn the line.  I maintain a site.  I write two blogs.  I don’t maintain them on my site, because I didn’t want to take the time to figure it out when someone else has templates, tech support and more. 

I didn’t learn HTML.  I used a What-You-See-Is-What-You-Get program.  No, I can’t get the light green background I originally envisioned but so far that hasn’t been a huge disappointment.

I don’t use Facebook.

Twitter, in my world, is something that birds do.

There’s nothing wrong with either.  I’d just rather use my time to write. 

You simply don’t have the time to do everything.  The choice is yours to make.


When Good Deadlines Go Bad

 What do you do when you miss a deadline?   Do you hide from your editor?   Maybe, if things are bad enough, you don’t even communicate with her until coffeethe deadline is long past and she asks what is going on.  There are writers who do that.  I’ve had to cover for them.  While I enjoy the paycheck, I don’t enjoy writing an article in a third of the time I usually have.

Last weekend I missed a deadline.   This wasn’t a minor little ho-hum, ‘what’s the big deal’ kind of deadline.  This was one of my anchor jobs, an editor I query every year without fail.  The problem came in verifying quotes.  I had heard back on several but not the most important. 

Fortunately, e-mail makes pinging my editor a breeze so I sent her an e-mail and explained the situation.  “No worry.  Take a few days to get this done.”

Phew.  I always get worked up when I have to contact an editor about a deadline I can’t meet.  It has only happened five or six times but I hate it. 

Deadlines are important.  Your editor needs to know when to expect things from you and you want to know when to expect notes for a rewrite and, later, that check.  But sometimes, things happen.  Let your editor know what is going on, that you are making an honest effort. 

Unless you’d rather just blow it off and let one of us have your check. 

Now, I’ve got to go.  My coffee cup is empty and I’ve got an article to work on.


Marketing Your Manuscript: Study the Catalogs Online

If you’ve started submitting your work, you probably know that you need to study the publisher’s catalog.  What’s new?  Who do they work with?  What gets the most buzz?  

While some of these things are just as easy to find online (new books) as they are in a print catalog, some aren’t.  What books got a two page spread?  A excerpt?  Have a special marketing packet planned?   For these you need to see the catalog. 

Fortunately, more and more  publishers are putting virtual catalogs online.  The trick is knowing where to find them. 

Along comes Early Word (http://www.earlyword.com).  Technically, their audience is librarians and their goal is to make researching acquisitions easier.  To do this, they pull together information about new releases from various publishers and this information includes catalogs.  When you visit the page for a particular catalog list, just remember to scroll down the list to the children’s catalogs.  For Spring 2009, I checked out Feiwel & Friends, Henry Holt and Square Fish.  There was a lot more but I need to head out in a bit.

I found out about Early Word through the 1/14 Children’s Writing Update which is put out by the publishers of CBI (the Children’s Book Insider).  Special thanks to them for all the information they bring to struggling writers!   They have a new site up and I’m looking forward to checking it out this afternoon.  Hope to see you there.


Creating Characters

professorYesterday I met with a philosophy professor at the University of Missouri-St. Louis.  My biggest concern was finding my way around after not having been on campus for about 9 years.  Who put all these new buildings here? 

I hadn’t given a lot of thought to the actual professor.  I took philosophy.  I know what philosophy professors are like.  Older guys.  Some of ’em dress pretty well.  Others, not so much.  

Walking to his office, I stepped aside to let someone, obviously a grad student, pass me in the narrow hall.  “Sue?”  he asked.

What?  You’re the professor?  You’re way too young.  And you’re dressed like . . . my husband.  Even the philosophy professors who dressed badly wore suit coats.  They just also wore t-shirts with writing you could see through their dress shirts.  They did not wear jeans and running shoes and sweat shirts.  Sweat shirts!  

Ok, I have gotten at least a month or two older in the last 9 years so that could explain the fact that he looked unexpectedly young.  But did I have a stereotyped professor in mind?  I didn’t think so, because my expectations were based on two of my former professors. 

But this got me to wondering.  How often, when we create characters, do we do so within boundaries that are too narrowly defined?  Do we rely on our own stereotypes even if they aren’t society’s stereotypes?  How can we broaden these boundaries without pushing them so far that our characters seem unbelievable?   Definite food for thought.


How Do You Read

Writers write but they also read.  How do you read as a writer?  Do you finish every book that you start?reading

I don’t.  When I mentioned this to my critique group, I was suprised to find out just how fickle I am compared to some of the others. 

A book has 10 to 20 pages to grab my attention.  If I’m not quite hooked, I may skip ahead and see if things have improved.  Is there more action?  More dialogue?  Is there some sign of a story problem?  That the main character has gotten off their duff? 

If what I read deeper into the story hooks me, I keep going.  If not, I close the book and drop it into the blue denim bag that I carry to and from the library. 

The only exception is if I need to read a particular book, perhaps because it is research for something I’m writing or because it is for our Book Club at Florissant Presbyterian Church. 

Why read things that bore me?   One of my writing buddies feels that she’s made a commitment, a promise to the author, even if she got the book from the library.

Not me.  Apparently, I read like our target audience.  Catch me quick or I’m off to do something else.   I might even fold laundry although I’d much rather read a good book.


Virtual Magazines

This week one of my writing buddies, Loren Gruber, introduced me to a new term — virtual magazine.  A virtual magazine is an on-line publication that differs from the “scroll down the page” or “click the link” online magazine.   With a virtual magazine, you actually turn page with the click of your mouse. 

I have to admit, when it comes to electronic magazines, I prefer virtual.  Somehow it just gives a cleaner look.  Maybe its the design limitation that comes with working page by page.  Things have to be concise and tight.  Maybe I’m just “old fashioned.”  Who knows?

If you’ve never seen a virtual magazine, you can check out Simply Fishing — http://www.simplyfishingmagazine.com/ .

So far I haven’t found a virtual magazine for children but will keep you posted if I find something.


Young Reader Inspired

For the first 3/4 of 1st grade and then most of 2nd grade, my son was a reluctant reader.  He didn’t have trouble reading what he wanted to read, but getting him to challenge himself by picking slightly longer books became a major stress.   He reads above grade level and deeply resents being forced to read harder books.  “Why am I the one being punished?” 

Add the fact that he despises much of the assigned reading which features little nonfiction, lots of female characters and tons of questions about emotion and motivation.  Anyone else hear Jon Scieszka in the background moaning?

This is a fourth grader who reads willingly when it is something he cares about.  More than once I’ve stopped myself from telling him to put down the stinking almanac already and come set the table for supper.  And haven’t you read that cat care book something like 497 times? 

Try explaining that although Hank the Cow Dog is great, at your grade level, and taught you the word coyote which saved your bacon in the spelling bee, BUT  they want you to read harder books to make your goal.  (Note to self:  repeat until you can say it without rolling your eyes.) 

Then he came shuffling out of school with a back pack so full he looked like a box turtle.  Inside was Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix.   It was either that or a municipal phone book.  Being a goof, I asked why he picked that particular book so we could repeat this process in the future.  “It’s 44 AR points.  I’ll make it to level 10 in one book (the school’s assigned goal) and then I can read whatever I want.”


He must have seen the look on my face (who didn’t?) because later when we were reading together he assured me that it is a really good book.  Seriously.  He’s enjoying it very much.

So why am I not thrilled?


Why Bother Writing

With publishers letting staff go and the burden of making time to write, you may wonder why you bother.  Why write?  Why not just eat and watch TV? 

Assuming you could find something to watch and that the kids haven’t eaten all the best munchies, you write because you love to do it.  You write in hopes of giving a child a moment like this with your book or magazine piece.

The book is 19 Girls and Me by Darcy Pattison.   This is the Chinese translation.  In spite of the fact that I only know about five non-food words in Chinese, I got so caught up in the excitement that I had to run and get my copy and read along with him.   Clearly, HeiHei adores this book and nothing is better than sharing it with his parents and all of us too.  

This is why we make time to write.  To bring this type of joy to a child.  Bringing joy to his parents isn’t bad but look at how happy he is.  How do you beat that?