Photographing Babies

Sorry this is late!   I’m having the kind of morning where breakfast is half a brownie with my coffee at 10 am. 

Back when I wrote for Young Equestrian Magazine (sadly, no longer in print), I took some of my own photos.  In doing so, I discovered the many bizarre faces a horse can make.  I also wished someone would give me some photo tips.

If you take photographs for your articles and you photograph children, take a look at “How to Take Better Baby Photos” in the New York Times.  The advice itself comes from Carrie Sandoval and if you take a look at her site you’ll see why she was the one to ask. 

The article gives advice on lighting/flash, exposure, clothing choices, time of day, black-and-white vs color, and more.  Franky, if you try just a wee tiny bit you can apply the advice to other photo situations.

Take a look and be inspired. 


The Right Details Tell Us a Lot

phoneToday my son answered the phone and very quickly hung up again.  I couldn’t hear what had been said but he hates talking on the phone.  Who had he dispatched so quickly?

When I asked, he shrugged.  “Don’t know.  It was some kind of boring grown up stuff.  Don’t worry.  He asked for Dad.”

“How did you know it was boring grown up stuff?”

“He used Dad’s first name.  The whole thing.”

Bingo.  Boring grown up stuff.  Boring enough that not even the grown ups want to deal with it.  But it is also shows how writers can use appropriate detail to set a situation up.  How a caller asks for someone tells us who it is — or isn’t.   When the phone rings at 2 am, you know there are limited possibilities as far as who might be calling and about what.

When you choose the detail for your own stories, are you as careful.  Or do you just throw in a laundry basket of detail, describing a place or person without adding to the plot tension or characterization in any way? 


Review: Novel Metamorphosis: Uncommon Ways to Revise by Darcy Pattison

First, a disclaimer.  Darcy and I have known each other for years.  We swap manuscripts.  She picks my work apart while I ask irritating questions about hers. 

How can I review her book?  I’m not unbiased, but I know my strengths and weaknesses. 

I’m a passionate researcher. 
I’m driven by curiosity.  
I have a slightly off-kilter way of looking at the world. 

In spite of my Type-A personality, I work by feel, trying things out, tweaking what doesn’t feel right and attempting something just to see how it works.

Darcy is highly analytic and, with the help of her book, I could be analytic when reworking my manuscript. 

Novel Metamorphosis began life as a workbook for Darcy’s novel revision workshop, offered since 1999.  Workshop.  That’s your first hint. If you are going to get anything out of this book, you are going to have to work.  Chart, outline, highlight and more.  Look at your manuscript in different ways for different things. 

I opened her book, ready to rewrite my chapter book, Crab Dad.  My critique group had already read my lightning quick draft and told me it needed one great improvement — increased tension.  My main character and my voice came through loud and clear. 

Since I knew what I needed to fix (snicker), I almost skipped to chapter . . . wait a minute.  Where’s the chapter called “Tension”?  Without this goal in sight, I worked through the book one chapter at a time, the way it would happen at a workshop.   This meant completing a novel inventory and a shrunken manuscript. 

From the novel inventory I learned that most of my scenes were set in the morning.  Almost nothing happened post lunch.  I could increase the tension by having my main character try to accomplish things under a time crunch — bedtime or some other deadline. 

The shrunken manuscript showed that most of my description was early in the manuscript.  I didn’t have huge narrative blocks, but I simply had almost no description later on.  I know, I know.  My critique group pointed it out but I had to see it for it to sink in. 

As I worked through Novel Metamorphosis, I found one chapter that was almost entirely dialogue.  Additional action here helped increase tension.  I realized that although I use a lot of detail, and that it isn’t all visual, almost none of it involves smell or taste.  My setting was fairly generic where a true St. Louis summer could help weigh things down.  (Can you say oppressive humidity even when it isn’t hot?) Finally, I had the obligatory horrible scene but it was short.  Too short. 

I amost finked out without doing the last chapter — Depth.  I wanted to believe I didn’t need to look at theme and the symbols I chose to use and how I might strengthen the relationship between the two to add to the depth.   Why?  Can you say one heck of a lot of work and I’m not as analytic as I sometimes seem? 

Don’t pick up Darcy’s book for simple inspiration.  Pick it up to help you seriously re-work your manuscript.  It worked for me. 



Accidental Research

Are you the kind of person who scoops things up willy nilly and throws them away without looking to see what is in the box, basket or bag? 

This weekend I was given my grandmother’s sewing box and a fruit box with my name on it.  “Full of recipes,” said my father.  Boy was it!   I haven’t looked through it all yet but I now have a 1942 Betty Crocker cookbook as well as a big batch cook book from 1941 (see below).   Cool, cool, cool!  They even have G-ma’s notes in them!


In the sewing box I found what seems to be a wooden sewing needle holder, a wooden crochet hook, some kind of sewing awl and a big paper book of needles (see below).  I am having so much fun hunting things down on-line and, you can bet, some of these items will find their way into my stories.


If your a history buff, don’t let that box getting away without giving it a quick once over!  Who knows what you’ll find.



Just a quick post to let you know that I have another article in WOW, Women On Writing, newsletter.  You can find “How to Combat Writer’s Block.”   It is part of the July 2009 issue, The Process.   

And just to make things a bit more fun, here’s a link to a favorite of mine, the snow sculpture titled Blocco Mentale (mental block).  Follow the link, click on Snow Gallery and then Blocco Mentale.  Take some time to browse this site and see some wonderfully creative work.

Hope to get a longer post up later but we’re off to the dentist. Oh, what fun!


Sell Your Narrow Focus

focusI read the writer’s magazines and newsletters too, so I’ve seen the headlines.  “List articles sell.” 

I know they must because I see them in my own magazines.  I see them when I’m in the check out line. 

Unfortunately, many writers seem to have the idea that they’re easy to write.  Every list article submitted for 21st Century Family earned a rejection.  Why?    There were two reasons.

1.  They were too lean.  

2.  They tried to cover too much ground. 

What these authors needed to do was narrow their focus.   Cover a tight topic and ten tips seems like a lot of information.  Give ten tips on a broad topic and you’re skimming the top, hinting at information without being truly helpful.

Don’t try to sell an editor “10 tips for a fun summer.”  Instead, go with “10 Great Back Yard Games.”  Or “10 Car Friendly Snacks.”  Narrow your focus until 10 tips or a dozen hints seems like a lot. 

That’s when you’ll start collecting acceptance letters.  At least from me.


Idea Generation

ideasI have never had to many good ideas day after day as when I worked in the garden.”

–John Erskine 

Work in the garden, go to the museum, have a super soaker battle in the back yard.  Whatever it takes, get away from the computer. 

Why?  To recharge those creative batteries. 

I noticed it first in my son.  For some infraction or another he was grounded off the computer for a week.  The first several days were miserable as he begged and whined, trying to get his electronic fix.  Then he started to play and after another day or so I saw a change.  He was not only building with Legos (pretty typical) but also making crafts and making up games.   His creativity had been notched up by flipping the “off” switch on the computer.

When you’re stuck on a writing job, do you ever try getting away from the computer? 

Sometimes you just need to get away from the glowing gargoyle and do something else to recharge your creative batteries.  Live, move, laugh.  Then try to write.

Other times, you just need to break with your routine.  Grab a legal pad and sit on your balcony.   A friend of mine writes in a coffee house which I simply find too distracting.   Try writing on paper some place that you don’t normally write.  I’ve reworked several articles that way and it is one of my favorite ways to brainstorm. 

Get up and get away and see if you can rediscover your creativity.


Free University Courses

As much as I love finding listings of the texts, movies and articles used in various university classes, I really miss the lectures.  If I listen to a lecture, I can often find the various materials they mention.

Fortunately, UC Berkeley offers a variety of web casts that consist of the same lectures that on campus students hear in class.  Sixteen different semesters offer a variety of classes that include:

Topics include biology, statistics, physics, philosophy, anthropology, history and more. 

Happy Learning!


Nonfiction for Children

kidsDid you know there is a  list serve just for children’s nonfiction writers? 

The Nonfiction for Kids (NFforKids) listserv is moderated by Deanne Durett, a former SCBWI RA.   Click here and it will take you to the sign up on Yahoo. 

I keep my list memberships to a minimum, but the members of this list are both generous and friendly.   This list doesn’t generate dozens of messages daily, but I make the number even more manageable by getting them in a daily digest.

Why not stop on my if your passion is children’s nonfiction?


What Beginners Need to Know

newThis fall I’ll be doing the basics discussion for beginners, “Everything you need to know to get started in children’s publishing,”  at the Missouri SCBWI conference.

Of course, I’ll cover:

  • Reading what is being published today.
  • Reading work by your target publisher.
  • Submitting to a specific editor.
  • Write and rewrite (handout on rewriting).
  • How to format a manuscript (handout).
  • Where to find out what editors want (handout).

But I’m sure there are things I’m forgetting.  After all, I haven’t been a beginner in quite a while.

What do you wish someone had told you when you were just starting out?  What didn’t you know that you wish you had?  What would have made it all much, much easier? 

I welcome your suggestions!