21st Century Family — Issue #1

Special thanks to everyone who has submitted articles for the first issue, or subsequent issues, of 21st Century Family.  As of today, I have commitments for all of the features and columns for the first issue.   That doesn’t mean I won’t look at anything else but it does mean that it might be a while before I can use it.  If you need a look at the full guidelines, you can find them here

I’ll keep everyone posted as things progress and when we start working on issue #2, I’ll post that here too. 

Again, thank you to everyone who took a chance and submitted when there wasn’t even a sample issue to study.  Freelancers have guts!


Are your Characters just like everyone else?

herdI’m not a huge advocate of wacky, over-the-top characters, but I love reading about characters who have quirks, something that makes them unique.  Maybe it’s because I’m wired a bit differently myself.

I was thinking about this as I read about altitude sickness. One recommendation to minimize altitude sickness is to limit caffeinne. Uh, been there, tried that, nearly hurled. I had to actually drink a bit more caffeine than unusual to keep the headache and hot flashes at bay.  When I asked my doctor if this was a problem, he had only one question.  “It worked and your healthy.  What’s the problem?”

Next I was reading about various ways to energize yourself. One recommendation was lavendar aromatherapy.  Heaven save me from lavendar aromatherapy.  Once my head stops up and I can’t breathe, I get lethargic.  For me, citrus or peppermint work wonders in the energy department.

Real people have quirks.  My son has a friend who loves peanut butter and chocolate chip sandwiches, no jelly. 

My father had a pet goat named Martha Washington.  One of his uncle’s named his twin sons after a horse team.

Quirks are interesting.  Think about what makes your characters interesting and fun.  Don’t include a lot of details that don’t add to the story but don’t be afraid to create unique individuals.


Check out my article in WOW May/June ’09

I’ve got an article, “Navigating the Fantastic: Rules for Writing Fantasy” in the May/June ’09 issue of  WOW! Women on Writing.  The issue touches on a various types of genre writing including fantasy, horror, suspense, thriller, and historic fiction.

I’m used to writing how-tos for children’s writers so I’m getting to stretch my creative muscles in new directions when I write for WOW. 

Take a look at the issue.  This is one of my favorite on-line newsletters.


Site for researchers

bagpipeAre you writing a story set in the Medieval or Renaissance Periods?  If so, here is a site that might be of help – The Guide to Medieval and Renaissance Instruments.

Instruments include but are not limited to the bagpipe, rebec, cornamuse, and recorder.  Each listing includes a variety of the following: one or more images of the instrument, a history, a sound file, and a list of additional resoures including print and online material. 

Warning:  Some of the sound files can take a while to load.  Thus my husband and I were both quite startled when my wee laptop started blaring bagpipe.  Not blaring, says my husband, wailing.  According to him, thunder is more calming.

Special thanks to Adam Cohen of Winning Writers for bringing this site to my attention.


Writing is a lot like Driving. . .

Writing is a lot like driving.  Most days I do fine on my own.  I get where I’m going without a hitch.  Some days, things don’t go as planned. 

The other day I pulled up to a stop sign and tried to shift back to first, but the stick was all loosey goosey.  We were within sight of the house so I sent my son to fetch our 21 year old neighbor.  Pretty soon he had recruited his brother and his nephew and two of their friends.  I steered while a mixed band of 7  (remember I’m a chidren’s writer/most of the people I know are pretty small) pushed my car up the street.  They had a blast and I’m sure we were quite a sight.

Have you ever been working on a manuscript only to realize something isn’t right but you can’t quite put your finger on the problem?  You need someone to give you a push in the right direction.

Fortunately, I have a great critique group.  We are notoriously free with our opinions, playing in each other’s sandboxes (messing with each other’s stories) with abandon.  I know I can drop something in their laps and say, “It doesn’t work.  What’s up?” 

Sometimes I’ve got a character doing what I want them to do when it simply isn’t a good fit with who they are. 

Other times I’ve got a full page of picture book text before the story actually starts.  Toss it aside and I’ve got a streamlined beginning. 

Most days my writing and my driving spin along pretty well.  Other days a need a helpful push.


Setting — Some details really are overused.

settingIt makes sense that we see some settings again and again.  Kids spend a lot of time at school, at home and at the homes of family and friends.  They go to the park and to the dentist. 

But as I was listening to an audio book this week it hit me how often certain details are overused.  

If your character lives in or visits a historic home, think about the background you create for the home itself.  For whatever reason, authors seem to love pre-Civil War homes.   And can you guess what detail these homes often have in common?   They were all stops in the Underground Railroad, even when it has absolutely nothing to do with the story.  

I know.  I know.  You want an exciting background for the home, especially if you want to work in secret passages and hidden panels, but these things could have existed for other reasons.    Maybe the former owner was a smuggler or a rum runner.   Maybe, more recently, the home was owned by a drug dealer or an art counterfeiter.  The former owner doesn’t have to be noble and that could actually make for more conflict and interest. 

Really.  It could. 

Unless the Underground Railroad figures into the story, look for something no one else has used.  Editors, young readers and book reviewers alike will notice, and they’ll thank you.


50 Picture Books

owlreadingHere is some of what I learned reading 50 picture books. 

  • Obviously, short sells.  I ran into very few longer books.  I don’t think this was a product of my sample — all I checked before dropping a book into my bag was the publication date.  Most of the longer books were folktales, such as One Potato, Two Potato by Cynthia DeFelice (Farrar, Straus, Giroux), or historical fiction, such as Tenth Avenue Cowboy by Linda Oatman High (Eerdman’s Books for Young Readers).
  • But publishers are also doing shorter historical fiction for younger readers.    See Wind Flyers by Angela Johnson (Simon & Schuster).
  • Most books had only one action or scene per spread.  Only in the first 1/3 of Fine as We Are by Algy Craig Hall (Boxer Books) did I notice that several spreads had more than one possible action to illustrate. 
  • I adore lush illustration.  That hooks me faster than anything else.  But how to explain what I mean?  Something that is full of color and detail.  Something that pulls me in to the point that I’m turning pages, mooning over the illustrations and forget to read.  That’s how I react to David Wisniewski’s Golem and Ducky.  I didn’t find anything like this.  Hmmm. . .
  • I also found a possible publisher for one of my own manuscripts.   This isn’t a publisher I normally submit to so I’m glad I found them this way.

What did you learn when you did your own reading?


Picture books this week

tenthThese are the last ten picture books for my “50 new books” reading project.

Fine as We Are by Algy Craig Hall (Boxer Books)

The Chicken Chasing Queen of Lamar County by Janice Harrington (Melanie Kroupa Books/Farrar Straus Giroux)

Jenny Found a Penny by Trudy Harris (Millbrook Press)

Dog Day by Sarah Hayes (Farrar Straus Giroux)

Tenth Avenue Cowboy by Linda Oatman High (Eerdman’s Books for Young Readers)

Mavis and Her Mooncakes by Dar Hosta (Brown Dog Books)

Airplanes: Soaring! Turning! Diving! by Patricia Hubbell (Marshall Cavendish Books)

Police: Hurrying! Helping!  Saving!  by Patricia Hubbell (Marshall Cavendish Books)

A Friend for All Seasons by Julia Hubery (Atheneum)

Wind Flyers by Angela Johnson (Simon & Schuster)

In my next post, I’ll summarize some of what I learned while doing this reading.  How is your own reading coming?


What I’ve Learned as an Editor

When I was offered the position of 21st Century Family managing editor, I studied other parenting and family magazines.  What columns should I include?  What did the others not offer?   How could I attract and hold a readership?

When I finally came up with a list of topics, there were some I thought would fill quickly.  Safety.  A profile on a great kid and one on an amazing parent.  Money saving tips. 

So far I’ve only filled two of these and I  thought they’d be pretty easy.

The one I thought would be really hard to fill was LOL, the humor column.  Maybe I made this assumption because I find humor hard to write.  Regardless, in the first week of submissions, I received more than enough humor for several issues.  I had to start turning pieces down.

But I also learned what a thrill it is to have an author pitch I piece that I never would have thought of on my own.  And I love making suggestions on how to improve a piece and receiving an amazing rewrite.

Thanks to everyone who has already submitted.  I now have a better idea how hard it is to submit without a sample copy to study.  It takes guts and talent and I’ve already seen a great deal of both.