Goals as We Move into February

Help, help!  We have winter weather!  Sorry.  Just had to get that out there.  If I don’t panic at least a little bit, they’ll come throw me out of St. Louis for being a panic pooper.   That said, school is letting out two hours early (word problem:  when do I need to pick up the kids?) so who knows how much work time I’ll have this week.  We shall see what we shall see.

I did pretty good last week given the amount of time I had to spend on layout and other things that don’t generate word count.  I pulled down 6529 words with a goal of 6000.  Maybe I can manage that again this week if the polar bears don’t get us all.

Here are my goals for this week:

  • 5 posts for One Writer’s Journey (Done!).
  • 1 post/review for the Bookshelf (Done!).
  • 1 post for a new blog that I’ll be telling everyone about soon — we are ironing out the details (Done!).
  • 1 blog post for Church (Done!).
  • 3 new chapters for middle grade (Done!).
  • Smooth over problems in several chapters of middle grade/I need to clean up 20 pages (Done!).
  • Script rewrites (in progress).
  • Read a new how-to chapter (Done!).
  • I may have a magazine article to write (in progress).
  • Clean up a pile here in my office (Done!).
  • Brainstorm some new ideas (in progress).
  • Write up at least one craft idea for a new market.

Have you noticed how similar my list is from one week to the next.  Part of this is because blog posts ALWAYS need to be written.  Also, my office is good sized so cleaning up a big mess in here is a very big job.  Also, I’ve not made any noticeable progress on the middle grade in two weeks now.  Part of the problem is that I haven’t figured out the mechanics of something in my fantasy world so I guess I better do that already.  Maybe I’ll get my son to help.

Since we’re heading into a new month, I thought I’d take a look at my yearly goals.

My goals for this year include:

  • Study:  Poetry, essays, memoir and language.  I’ve been working on essays and making steady progress.  What I’ve noticed about the book is that the techniques I am working through will help with all of my writing and not just my essays.
  • Do some online tutorials so that I can learn some more tricks for the programs I already use (Photoshop, Illustrator and Acrobat).
  • Clean up my office.  I’ve made really good progress here.
  • Redesign and update my site.
  • Come up with a new manuscript tracking system (either construct a new database or find a new program).
  • Get 6 book projects out and circulating.  New book manuscript out with an agent.
  • Work on getting an agent.  See above.

Not as far as I’d like to be.  I can see that I really need to take a look at these goals once a week.

How is everyone else doing on their goals?



Am I the only writer on the planet who catches myself wanting to rewrite the world around me?  Some days it is all I can do not to correct letters from school and send them back (Spelling:  A, Clarity:  C-).  Today it was dialog.  I had asked someone a question and, in responding, she went off on a complete tangent.   Fortunately, I stopped myself in time and didn’t ask, “Is there a reason the reader needs to know this?”

When writing dialog for your characters, remember that there are ways that fictional dialog differs from what we hear every day.

  • You know what its like to get cornered by one of those people who ramble on and on.  Boring.  Tedious.  Painful.  You may have to put up with it on occasion but your reader will not see the point and will not be your reader for long.  Shorter is better.
  • We all use place-holders in speech.  You know placeholders — those little sounds you make when your brain is trying to catch up.  “Um . . .”  “And. . . ”  “Well . . . ”  You may need to use something like this to make a point but it should be the rare exception.
  • Teen characters should sound like teens without talking exactly like teens.  Slang and dialect can make for choppy, difficult reading.  Don’t try to take us there.  Instead, give the impression of teen speak.  To find out how to do this, read books that are popular with the audience.

There are also ways that written dialog, when done very well, is very similar to spoken dialog.

  • Dialog should at least occasionally include subtext, that which is understood but not said.  People use it all the time when they speak but when creating written dialog, authors sometimes forget this.  Sometimes it comes about when . . .
  • Questions are not answered directly.  When we speak, we very seldom respond directly to everything we are asked.  But written dialog very often resembles a ping pong match.  Question . . . ping . . . exact answer . . . pong . . . another question . . . ping . . . another direct answer . . . pong.  People don’t always communicate like this.
  • Finally, each character should sound different from the other characters.  Sometimes it is a matter of word choice.  Sometimes it is attitude.  Sometimes it is tone.  In some way, character A needs to sound different from character B, not to mention C, D, and E.

What have you noticed when working on your own written dialog?


What I’ve Been Reading

I was going to post my reading a month at a time but between massive amounts of homework reading (I often read while my son reads) and also a family full of head colds (cuddled up drinking hot beverages and reading), I’ve got quite a list already.  I’ve already reviewed some of them and will review others later but here’s the list in alphabetical order.

  • Sew Deadly by Elizabeth Lynn Casey
  • Cork and Fuzz: Finders Keepers by Dori Chaconas
  • Bink and Gollie by Kate DiCamillo and Alison McGhee
  • Ballet for Martha by Jan Greenberg and Sandra Jordan
  • Tip-Tap Pop by Sarah Lynn
  • Brinsingr by Christopher Paolini
  • You’re on Your Way Teddy Roosevelt by Judith St. George
  • Kid vs. Squid by Greg van Eekhout
  • We Are in a Book! by Mo Willems
  • The Mysterious Howling by Maryrose Wood, the first in a new series, The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place.

Here are some things that I’ve learned from this almighty stack of reading.  Some things may make excellent print stories but make less excellent audiobooks.  Howling.  Howling is really irritating on an audiobook especially when it brings lots of questions from other members of the household during plot critical moments.

Mo Willems must be one of the funniest people on the planet.  We don’t read out loud very often, my son is now 11 going on 22, but I had to read We Are in a Book! out loud to him.  It was just too funny to keep to myself.  Soon, we were screaming with laughter.  My husband, whom I believe secretly found it hilarious but has an image to preserve, just gave us that look.

If you write sf or fantasy, do not call your collective of bad guys The Empire.  Seriously.  My son and I will laugh.  Again. And this time even my husband will feel the need to discard the grown up facade long enough to do a wicked Darth Vader impression.  Yes, it was an audiobook but don’t risk it.  Sure, laughter is good but come up with your own “group of bad guys” term.  Seriously.

Now off for some more reading.  I left the hero in a really sticky fix.


Dummying Your Work

Lately I’ve been rewriting the picture book that Bree Ogden critiqued at the Missouri SCBWI conference this fall.  She asked me to add several things, pointing out that I had plenty of wiggle room before I hit 1000 words.

Apparently not quite enough wiggle room.

In my rewriting, I added another “attempt” to solve the problem and deepened the characterization and managed to squeak right on past 1000.  No, 1060 isn’t bad but I’m not sure it is as tight as it could be.  That means cutting unnecessary words.  No big deal, but I have noticed that when I do this in a picture book in standard manuscript format, I tend to cut a lot early on and maybe at the very end, skimming through the middle.

I plan to solve that problem for this particular manuscript by dummying it.  Dummying will do two things for me.

It will let assure me that even with the added attempt my manuscript is still the right length for a picture book.

It will force me to look at my work spread by spread.  When I do this, especially if I take a super short break at approximately the 1/3 and 2/3 marks, I will do a much better job studying each spread and making sure that the language sings.

With that in mind, it is time to go get the scissors and the tape.  I have a dummy to make.


Characterization: Boys and Girls are not identical

Boys and girls are not identical.  Boy characters and girl characters should not be entirely interchangeable.

Ironic that I am the one making that statement.  My very first sale was a rebus to Ladybug.  The characters were a girl and two boys.   When I got the letter from the editor, it included a note asking if they could change one of the boys to a girl.  It was ok with me, but I was curious so I called and asked why.  Not surprisingly, magazines for both boy and girl readers want a balance of male and female characters.  Given the spare characterization in a rebus, it was easier to change one of my characters than a character in a longer piece.

Why?  Because the deeper the characterization, the harder it would be.  No matter how many ways we try to treat boys and girls alike, they are very often different.

This was brought home again and again during the two snow days my niece and son had last week.  At one point I asked what they were playing.  My niece scowled behind my beaming son.  “Disaster!” he said. Apparently, the only way she could get him to agree to play house was to play natural disaster.  Yep, she got to cuddle her baby doll but she also had to put up with emergency sirens and various valiant rescues.

Then there was dinosaur play.  With my son, it always looked a lot like “who eats who.”  The girls, on the other hand, seem to group them in families.  Mommies and daddies protect babies.  Not that he didn’t manage to stir up a rousing game of Carnivore but that one was 100% his idea.

This just has me thinking.  I know that not all girls are alike as each boy differs from all others.  But are there ways that boys and girls differ in how they think?  In how they react?

I took a quick look and this is what I found.

Boys and Girls Brains are Different

Bullying:  What are the Differences between Boys and Girls

Are Boys and Girls Wired to Learn Differently

No conclusions on my part but I’m giving this some serious thought.


Goals for the Last Week of January

9 inches with five more hours of snow yet to fall. 1/20/2011

Hmm.  I just did the math.  I thought I was going to have to fess up to not meeting my word count goals but I managed to pull 6020 words with a goal of 6000.  Surprising?  Only if you realize that Monday was a holiday (no school) and Thursday and Friday were snow days.  I did get to everything on my list but I did get a lot done considering.

So here is a vaguely similar list of goals for this week

  • 5 posts for One Writer’s Journey (done!).
  • 1 post/review for the Bookshelf (done!).
  • 1 post for a new blog tba later in the week (done!).
  • 1 blog post for Church.
  • Script rewrites if any are requested (Done!).
  • 3 new chapters for middle grade.
  • Smooth over problems in several chapters of middle grade.
  • Finish the how-to chapter (done!).
  • Dummy the picture book manuscript for rewriting (done!).
  • Get the picture book manuscript to the agent (done! Did you not hear me fussing and fidgeting as I attached the file?  Really, someone needs to just snatch my work from me and send it out. ).
  • Clean up a pile here in my office (done!).
  • Brainstorm some new ideas (done!).
  • Get some craft ideas started for a new market (in progress).

I really like to limit myself to two goals/day.  Some may not take long, but others take longer than a single day.  But this week I’ve got 13 in part because I have two I didn’t touch last week and I split one goal into two since it is really two different jobs.

So I guess I had better get to work!


The Story You Tell

Even if we all read the same story, we get something just a wee bit different out of it.

“Behind the story I tell is the one I don’t…Behind the story you hear is the one I wish I could make you hear.” ― Dorothy Allison

You sit at your desk and write and rewrite and then rewrite again.  No matter how carefully you craft your story, you can’t entirely control what your reader gets out of it.  In part, this is because each reader brings his or her own experiences to the table.  A child who has been physically abused will get things out of Julie of the Wolves that a child with a different background will entirely miss.

You can also see this effect with a really good picture book.  Because picture books are meant to be read by adults to children, the very best entertain both the adult and the child.  It is absolutely necessary if you want the adult reader to agree to read the book again and again and again upon request.  Check out What Really Happened to Humpty? by Jeanie Franz Ransom as a good example.  A child gets the slapstick nature of the physical comedy and the surface humor of an egg in a trench coat.   But when you apply the term hard-boiled detective to an egg in a trench coat, it funny in a very different way for the adult.

But there is also the problem of the story you meant to write vs the one you actually got down on paper.  No matter how carefully I craft a story, there are always things that were in my head that somehow never made it into the story.  I ferret out these issues in two ways.  First, by having someone else read the story.  Whenever my read has a question, it usually means that something didn’t make it onto the page.  Secondly, I analyze the story.  Now, I’ll be the first to admit that analyzing my work is not something that comes naturally to me.  To do it well, I need to follow a series of steps such as those laid out in Darcy Pattison’s Novel Metamorphosis.

Stories are like parfaits.  You never get the whole story down in one try.  To find out what you need to strengthen and shape, you need to analyze and then rewrite.  Layer upon layer the story builds until you are ready to hand it over the reader who will dig in, exposing the various layers for their own enjoyment.  The more effort you put into it, the longer this enjoyment lasts.


Book Trailer for Tiger’s Curse

It seems like I’m seeing Colleen Houck and Tiger’s Curse here, there and everywhere online this past week.  And it isn’t surprising with a trailer like this:

The graphics, the music and even the font all tie tightly together, perfect for a book featuring a tiger and India.  Perfect.  Part of what immediately drew me in was the ink trail leading through the trailer, across the globe and deep into adventure.  What can I say?  I did graphics.  I used pen and ink and I still love it.  And I love seeing that a publisher, in this case Sterling, is the one who pulls together a top notch trailer.

Hats off to Sterling for supporting their authors and their books.

Congratulations to Houck for having such an awesome trailer.

Now off to check the library to see if my copy is in yet!


Cruise your Library with Wowbrary

Just in case you don't have enough books.

I love my local library.  I love the stacks, the children’s section, the magazines, the teen section, the audiobooks and the movies.  I even adore the new books area.

The problem is that our library system has 20 branches.  I can browse new books at my library, seeing what is not yet checked out.  I can even see what is new throughout the system if I visit the web site but I have to check by category.

Fortunately, there is a new service that regularly sends out newsletters to let you know what is new in your particular library system. Wowbrary covers something like 4 library systems in my own area.  I signed up for just my own library but might sign up for the others as there is a lending program between the various systems.

Visit the site and enter your zipcode to see if your own system is included.

Special thanks to INK for bringing this service to my attention.


Writer’s Digest and Me

Right around Christmas I got an unexpected check.  Why F&W Media would be sending me a nice sum for a “Writer’s Workbook” reprint of a CWIM article, I didn’t know.

They have the right to reprint the material as long as they pay me so I knew that was what had happened.  As soon as I got everyone back in school or off to the office, I’d send a few e-mails and find out where my work had or was going to appear.

Then last week, before I had a chance to e-mail, I got a big, beautiful envelope from Writer’s Digest.  My article, “How to Avoid Parenting Your Characters,” is on pages 60 to 62.  Check it out and you’ll have the opportunity to learn from some of your fellow authors — Jan Czech, Bree Despain, Esther Hershenhorn, A.S. King, Kristin Wolden Nitz, Syndey Salter, and Judy Young. This is especially timely since King  just took a Printz honor.

Isn’t nice when the publishing world delivers a nice surprise to your door step?