Halt! Step Away from the Keyboard!

As many of you know, I’ve been writing prayers for Prayables.com.  I’ve learned  to take my own thoughts, prayers and issues and broaden it,  making it meaningful for a wider audience.  Lately I’ve been looking for new-to-me religious markets.   I quickly heard about a Christian market.  I got several copies of this children’s publication knowing that weeklies are a great place to sell since they publish so much work.

Before brainstorming, I did the smart thing and read through some of the samples.  To me it seemed really preachy, but maybe I was just imaging things.  After all, I didn’t want to give us on this market.  They’re a weekly!   They need several pieces every week! I showed it to my husband.  Nope.  I wasn’t imagining things.

But I’m a good writer.  Surely they’d want to buy something from me.  Something better than what they’d been getting.

(see any warning signs here?)

Yet, as I read more samples, this uncomfortable feeling wiggled through my psyche.  That’s when I came across this post by Janet Reid, What On Earth Are You Thinking?

As so often happens when you feel like you are among the privileged few who can see the mistakes of the masses, I laughed my butt off.  Wow.  Could you approach an agent in a worse way?

Maybe not, but then my niggling feeling gave me a good kick.  But you can approach an editor in a way that is just as bad. HINT:  If you don’t like the work a press or magazine produces, do not submit to them. I knew this.  I just wasn’t ready to wave bye bye to a market that needs so much work.

Does this mean that you should give up on a publisher simply because one issue didn’t appeal to you?   Because you don’t like one novel or picture book on their Fall list?

Not at all.  This is part of the reason it is a good idea to study several pieces/issues.  Not everything is going to resonate with every reader.  When new writers pan a book, telling me how much better they can write, I ask them to take a good look at the book they don’t like.  Why would the publisher buy it?  There must be a reason. If you can’t tell or you consistently dislike what a publisher produces, step back and look for another market elsewhere.  This one simply is not a good match for you.

Even if they do buy several items every week.


Why Research Is Important

Ok, first things first.  An admission.  I did not get the computer turned off before the power went out.  Not that the storm was all that bad — rain, no wind.  But I live in an area that sometimes loses power just because.

Because we had no power, I got to roam around with no lights and there is definitely a reason that people used to go to bed at sunset.  Sure, part of it may have been the cost of candles and other light sources but I suspect that a bigger part was that said light sources aren’t all that great.

Through the course of several periods with no power, I have tried writing by oil lamp.  HA!  That’s all I have to say.  HA!

I have tried to play board games by fire light.  Again, I laugh.  Ha ha!

And I have also packed up salmon and steak to take to another freezer just blocks away where my father had power.  All those movies where they do intricate tasks by flashlight?  Note something important, there is always a sidekick to hold said flashlight.  Without a sidekick, jobs are slow and clumsy.

But if you go by what you read in spy novels or see in movies, you’d believe that you can sidestep a security system, including cameras and some kind of device at floor level, all with one flashlight, talc, and a pack of gum, no sidekick needed.

Try it before you write it.  I dare you!


Goals — Rushing Toward the End of the Month

With only a partial week still to go in June, I did really badly with my word count goals last week.  I only managed 3400 out of 6000 words.  Boo!

That said, I also spent most of one day sick in bed and had met two deadlines the week before.  I think this was necessary decompression time, so I absolutely refuse to beat myself up over it.  Why?  It won’t actually accomplish anything but create too much stomach acid — not a fabulous achievement in my world.

So instead I’m going to see what I can accomplish this week.  I’ve already logged almost 700 words so I think I might be able to hit 1000 today.

I have the geology picture book and the astronomy picture book to work on and I want to get caught up brainstorming picture book ideas.  I also have three new picture books that I want to work on.  Not that a picture book draft does a whole lot in terms of word count, but that’s what I want to do this week.  Will shall see what I manage to accomplish!

Hmm.  I may not get a full 1000 words done today.  I’m writing this Sunday evening and the sky has gone really overcast.  I hate it, HATE IT, when the power blinks and I have the computer on so I may go ahead and power down.  I’ll take the trash out first and see if it is really as awful out as it looks from just this one window.


Writing Science

I recently read two posts on the INK blog that have left me thinking about how we write science specifically, but nonfiction in general, for children.

The first was “Struggling with Academic Texts” posted by Melissa Stewart.   Stewart discusses:

  • The effect of No Child Left Behind on science teaching (it has reduced the amount of time given to science curriculum).
  • The resulting need to integrate science learning into language arts curriculum.
  • The fact that today’s students are struggling to read academic level texts.
  • That nonfiction texts for children today are farther removed than ever from academic texts.
  • Whether or not there is something superior in academic style writing when it comes to imparting fact or if it is simply the act of writing about something that helps solidify your thinking on it.

The second was “What’s Good for the Gosling. . .” posted by Susan E. Goodman.  Goodman discusses:

  • Her work teaching in Lesley University low residency MFA program.
  • An exercise she does with elementary school students where she has them rewrite an encyclopedic dry text on brown bats.  They worth through it based on facts in the original that each of them found fun or exciting and selecting a setting that invokes the feel they want the piece to have.  Choosing strong images and verbs are also part of the exercise.
  • Adapting this exercise for her MFA students.

What conclusions have I drawn?  Not many.  So far I have mostly hunches, thoughts and niggling bits, but they are:

Academic does not have to mean boring, but often academic writing is both dull and unclear.

I had a professor who insisted that half of the point behind how academics write was to intentionally “obfuscate the meaning, thus mystifying their power.”  IE, they were intentionally unclear because it makes them seem powerful.

Nonfiction of my youth was dull as dishwater but not academic.  So I’m not sure that I agree that what is published today is, by necessity, less academic.  Maybe it is, maybe it isn’t, but it has very little to do with making it more interesting.  Kelly Milner Halls writes interesting nonfiction that also communicates the science very clearly.

I guess I do have a conclusion or two.  I think you can write scientifically accurate work that is interesting.  Making something interesting doesn’t mean dumbing it down, but it could mean using a word that an academic might not choose.  Not necessarily the wrong word, but my tenure isn’t riding on word choice.  Respect your reader.  Assume that they can understand complicated things.  You simply need to be brainy enough to find a way to explain it.  It may be fiction, but Douglas E. Richards explains the fourth dimension in Stranded.   It isn’t an academic text but I understood it at least in part.  Our goal should be to communicate accurate facts.  If we can make them entertaining as well, so much the better.

Thoughts?  Comments?


Rejection Letter Blues

In spite of my wonderful Rejection Jar, some rejections still rock me back on my heels.  This one was from Highlights and part of the problem was probably the fact that I had rewritten the piece for them twice.  It had gone to committee twice.  To get so close with no sale is always worse for me than an immediate rejection.

The Rejection Jar might have helped but I had promised my son that I would do something with him.  The time was here for that something and now I was in a MOOD.  Most of the cures in the Rejection Jar require serious me time and that just wasn’t in the cards.  But then I remembered a recipe I had printed off The Koala Bear Writer blog, The Three-Minute Brownie.  Since my son wants to work on his cooking skills, this would be a perfect together-time-criminally-chocolate pick-me-up.  We made one to share and used mint-chocolate chips.




It was purely amazing.

Not that I could have eaten it all by myself without doing permanent damage but Wow.  (My friend Matt assures me that he could have eaten the whole thing by himself and he would gladly help save me from Brownie Defeat.)

Whatever your rejection letter recovery plan is, have a back up plan.  A real plan.  It might involve chocolate.  Nerf dart guns are also awesome.  Or game time.  Know what works for you under various circumstances and be ready to go with it.

Once I had a bit of warm chocolate in me, I knew what to do with the manuscript too.  I’ll look it over with the editor’s comments in hand.  I plan to see if there is another market that would be suitable.  Preferably another market that is paying writers.  Promptly.  If not, I’m going to use this nonfiction manuscript as the background for a piece of fiction.  Why?  Because the reason for writing the manuscript (cultural identity) would be amazing background for a story about a kid questioning their own identity.

Or, I could do both.  With Brownie, anything is possible.


Hans Christian Andersen

If you are a writer who sometimes bases a story on a classic fairy tale, then Hans Christian Andersen: Fairy Tales and Stories is a site you must check out.

This site includes an introduction to Andersen’s work, a chronological listing of all 168 of his stories, and full content of many of these same stories.

This is definitely a site that I will be spending some time exploring.  (Note to my editors:  After I meet my deadlines, of course!)

Special thanks to Adam Cohen who published something about this amazing resource in his Winning Writers Newsletter 6/1/2010.

My apologies for such a brief post today.  This was one of those days that makes me grateful for good friends as I was sick and had to rely on the help of others to get some things done.

Will try to do better tomorrow!


Desk Yoga — Part 4

Back with Round Four in our Yoga/Fitness theme.

Today’s video is all about foot health.  Specifically, what they have in mind is wearing high heels to the office but this would also be a good series of stretches to do simply to bring greater flexibility to your feet.  I know that I don’t wear heels more than once a week, but I still can’t do the last stretch — almost but not quite.   Can you?

These stretches would also be good for conferences and workshops where you have to sit still for a period of time and want to stretch without disturbing your neighbors.

Any one out there have a stretch they love to do?


June: Goals, Goals and More Goals

The writing went pretty well this week with 7235 words as my total.  Wahoo!  That total included blog posts and several drafts of the article that was due on Sunday.  I’ve already heard back from the editor who liked the final version but wants me to add a bit to it.

That means that my goals for this week will include:

  • Making the additions to the WOW! article.
  • Wrapping up the Missouri SCBWI newsletter.
  • Taking a packet of material for church to final.
  • My blog posts.
  • The astronomy picture book — a friend helped me figure out a much needed rewrite.
  • The picture book manuscript that I worked on at the retreat.
  • A new picture book that I want to start roughing out.

As always, it looks like a ridiculous amount when I write it down but my son has 5 – 6 hours of library programs to attend this week.  Since I don’t dump and run, that gives me some serious work time.  Wahoo!

Happy writing, everyone!


Amazing Paper Art

Special thanks to the blog All Things Paper which led me to paper artist Oona Patterson.  Patterson makes miniature paper sculptures out of old books and other paper scraps.

For example, she made this tree (20 cm) from a copy of Hume’s Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding.  Scattered around the tree, both among the branches and beneath it, are an assortment of fairies, so small that you can just see them if you look very hard.

While I can manage a certain inept level of pop up art, this is so beyond anything I can even imagine creating.  But doesn’t it just fire your imagination?

Find more of her work:

Take the time to explore her work and you just may find yourself next writing a fantasy.


A course on writing the graphic novel

Last week, I blogged about a course being taught by writing buddy Anya Achtenberg.  This week I found another great class, this one brought to my attention by Julie Douglas of the Missouri Humanities Council.

The Graphic Novel, An Introduction looks like a great opportunity if you live near Springfield, Missouri.  The course  has both credit and noncredit options and it taught by Jen Murvin Edwards, a faculty member in the English Department at Missouri State University.  She writes fiction and children’s comic books, including work for the First American educational series Chickasaw Adventures and Catholic educational series Stories of the Saints.  She has also written for the World History Ink comic book series published by McGraw-Hill. Ms. Edwards’ short fiction has appeared in the MacGuffin Literary Journal.

The course also includes a presentation by Matt Kindt, an award-winning independent comic book artist and graphic designer from St. Louis, Missouri. Check out the site to find out more about his work.

If only I lived closer to Springfield!