Reading — July and August

  1. Adler, Elizabeth.  A Place in the Country (St. Martin’s Press)
  2. Bantwal, Shobhan. The Sari Shop Widow (Kensington Books)
  3. Bardhan-Quallen, Sudipta.  Pirate Princess (Harper)
  4. Brockman, Suzanne.  Out of Control (Ballantine Books)
  5. Dolamore, Jaclyn.  Between the Sea and Sky (Bloomsbury)
  6. Ernst, Lisa Campbell.  Sylvia Jean, Scout Supreme (Dutton Children’s Books)
  7. Foster, Sara.  Beneath the Shadows
  8. Goldberg, Lee.  Mr. Monk and the Dirty Cop.
  9. Grahame-Smith, Seth.  Unholy Night.  (Grand Central Publishing)
  10. Healey, Karen.  The Shattering (Little Brown)
  11. Klise, Kate and M. Sarah Klise.  Stand Straight Ella Kate (Dial Books for Young Readers)
  12. Knowles, Jo.  See You at Harry’s
  13. Lawrence, Caroline.  The Case of the Deadly Desperados (G.P. Putnams)
  14. Leedy, Loreen.  Seeing Symmetry (Holiday House)
  15. Matson, Mogan.  Amy and Roger’s Epic Detour (Simon and Schuster)
  16. Marzollo, Jean.  Pierre the Penguin, A True Story (Sleeping Bear Press)
  17. Messner, Kate.  Eye of the Storm 
  18. Murray, Alison.  Apple Pie ABC  (Disney, Hyperion Books)
  19. Rubin, Susan Goldman.  Jean Laffite: The Pirate who Saved America  (Abrams Books for Young Readers)
  20. Singh, Nalani, Ilona Andrews, Meljean Brook and Sharon Shinn.  Angels of Darkness (Berkley Sensation)
  21. Winkler, Henry and Lin Oliver.  Ghost Buddy Series:  Zero to Hero (Scholastic Press)

Somehow, I think I missed one or two but that’s the bulk of what I read in July and August.  What did I learn?

Being strange for the sake of being strange doesn’t do much for the reader.  I’ve been reading a lot of fantasy lately and it seems like some authors just throw in as much bizarre as possible.  Nothing is as it seems and “reality” shifts without a moments notice.  Yes, you can surprise me.  That’s good.  I don’t want to see everything coming from away off in the distance.  But if you have X, Y and Z strange things in your story, you had better make them important.  Or else.

You can still take me someplace new.  This doesn’t mean that everything has to be ho hum familiar.  I’ll read translations and other novels set overseas.  I love to be pulled into these worlds and all of the unfamiliar details, but that’s because the author give me enough that is familiar to serve as an anchor. This includes fantasy retellings of familiar stories.  I love to see how the author takes the facts (what is familiar) and twists it into something ultimately new and different.

Make your rhyme spot on.  If you can’t do this, prose is the way to go.  I repeat.  Write prose.

I don’t have to love your character, but I have to care about their situation.   Not every protagonist is a dream come true.  In fact, with some of them, I’m really happy that I don’t know these people.  But if I’m not going to adore your character, make him or her sympathetic in some way.  Make their goal something with which I can identify.  Threaten them with something that makes me want to stick up for them.

What amazing books have you read over the last few weeks?


Are Your Titles Any Good?

A rose by any other name might be lobelia.

“A good title should be like a good metaphor. It should intrigue without being too baffling or too obvious.”
Walker Percy

Special thanks to Susan Uhlig who posted this quote on her own blog.   It really made me think because I’m getting ready to send out a stack of manuscripts.  How do I put this gently?  Titles are not my thing.

That isn’t to say that none of my titles are any good.  I’m really happy with Wolf Guilt, Crab Dad and Rat Race.  But those are my middle grade and young adult titles.  My picture book titles are much less amazing.

The Princess in the  Garden solidly gives away the ending.  I get that but I’ve yet to come up with a title that I like better.

I liked Onward and Upward but it was a touch too mysterious.  Since this is a very character driven story, it became Fearless Felicity:  Onward and Upward.  It may go through one more change and become simply Fearless Felicity.

Cowboy College is so so but its wrong for the focus of the story.  Again, no better ideas have approached me out of the ether.

Zoo Staff is another monument to the so-so.  It became Zoo Crew which I like better but . . .

Off to do some more brainstorming.



Getting Your First Book

What does it take to make your first sale?  Check out this video interview with picture book author Tina Nochols Coury about her book, Hanging Off Jefferson’s Nose.  She has a lot to say about the journey to publication as well as what she’s learned working with a traditional publisher.

Thank you to SCBWI’s Lee Wind for sharing this with us.



Details Make or Break Your Writing

“Do you have any questions for me?”

I’d just sat through a paid critique of my work.  For the most part, the news had been good although there were things I needed to work on but she hadn’t addressed the one thing that I had been wondering about my own work.  “Do I include enough setting detail?”

“Yes, but not by much.  It wouldn’t hurt to add more.”

As a result, I’ve been trying weave in a bit more detail as I write.  What does this look like?  Would anyone notice a particular scent?  What sounds would work their way through all the hubbub?

But I also learned a lesson in my reading — be careful to use only accurate details.   See my Muffin blog post to find out more.


Truman Award and Gateway Award reading lists out

For years I’ve known about the Show-Me Reading Award (picture books) and the Mark Twain Reading Award (elementary school) but somehow two more Missouri Association of School Librarian Awards had escaped my notice.  Fortunately, my son’s Reading Writing Workshop teacher said something about them.  Thank you, Mrs. Brink!

The Truman Award is for middle school students.  Here is the final list for 2011-2012.  I’m really looking forward to Sneed Collard III’s Double Eagle;  I love his nonfiction picture books and want to experience more of his work.  And of course I have to recommend Bull Rider but feel I should point out that Susie Morgan Williams is one of my writing buddies.  That said — read her book!  Anyway, on with the list:

  • Mary Amato.  Invisible Lines (EgmontUSA)
  • Sneed Collard III.  Double Eagle (Peachtree Publishers)
  • Caroline Cooney.  If the Witness Lied (Delacorte Books for Young Readers)
  • James Dashner. The Maze Runner (Delacorte Books for Young Readers)
  • M. L. Forman, M.L.  Adventures Wanted: Slathbog’s Gold (Shadow Mountain)
  • Janice Hardy.  The Shifter (Balzer + Bray)
  • Heather Hepler.  The Cupcake Queen (Dutton Juvenile)
  • Andrew Klavan.  The Last Thing I Remember (Thomas Nelson)
  • Gordon Korman.  Pop (Balzer + Bray)
  • Deborah Lytton.  Jane in Bloom (Dutton Juvenile)
  • Joni Sensel.  The Farwalker’s Quest.  (Bloomsbury USA Children’s Books)
  • Suzanne Morgan Williams.  Bull Rider (Margaret K. McElderry)

Then we have the Gateway Reading Award for high school students.  Here are the nominations for 2012-2013.  I’ve already read Matson’s Amy and Roger’s Epic Detour.  Loved.  It.  And Elkeles books are always amazing.  Here is the list:

  • W. Bruce Cameron.  A Dog’s Purpose (Forge Books)
  • Morgan Matson.  Amy and Roger’s Epic Detour (Simon and Schuster)
  • Lauren Oliver.  Before I Fall (HarperTeen)
  • Pete Hautman.  Blank Confession (Simon and Schuster)
  • Lisa Schroeder.  Chasing Brooklyn (Simon and Schuster)
  • Antony John.  Five Flavors of Dumb (Dial Books)
  • Ally Condie.  Matched (Dutton Juvenile)
  • Jennifer Donnelly.  Revolution (Delacorte Press)
  • Jonathan Maberry.  Rot and Ruin (Simon and Schuster)
  • Simone Elkeles.  Rules of Attraction  (Walker and Co.)
  • Heidi Kling.  Sea (Putnam Juvenile)
  • Paolo Bacigalupi.  Ship Breaker (Little Brown and Co.)
  • Matthew Quick.  Sorta Like a Rock Star (Little Brown and Co.)
  • Swati Avasthi.  Split (Knopf)
  • Jandy Nelson.  The Sky is Everywhere (Dial Books)

Enjoy some seriously good reading!  What can you take out of these books to use in your own writing?


One Library’s Automated Book Retrieval System

I stumbled onto this video of the book retrieval system at the University of Chicago’s Mansueto Library.   I have to admit, when they showed the first picture of the library I thought “Where are the books!?  Someone forgot the books!” but obviously with a retrieval system like that the books are anything but forgotten.

I do find it a little hard to believe that I could have any book I asked for in less than 5 minutes but perhaps I’m just being a resistant pill . . .


Dialogue Isn’t Always Straight Forward

“The most important thing in communication is to hear what isn’t being said.”
–Peter Drucker

Recently, I read two books that rely heavily on dialogue and not just what is being said, but also how another character misinterprets what has been said or how two people dodge each other’s questions about tough topics.

This simply is not how many of us use dialogue in our manuscripts.  Character 1 asks a question.  Character 2 answers without holding anything back.  Back and forth.  Its like watching straightforward tennis.  Right.  Left.  Right.  Left.

Yet, this is not how most people talk to each other.  Pay attention the next time you ask someone a question.  Sometimes you get “yes” or “no.”  Many other times, you get another question or a statement on another topic.  Then there’s the misinformation on attempts to change the topic.  I’m not saying that everyone is devious and full of bad intent.  Sometimes there are simply things that we don’t want to talk about.  Or we are still processing them and can’t give a complete answer.

Read Amy and Roger’s Epic Detour by Morgan Matson for a epic example of talking without communicating.  Mom tells Amy what she wants.  Amy thinks it is a wretched idea but she’s been specializing in just going through the motions.  Its not like she knows what she’s going to do but it sounds like she’s going along . . . right up until she doesn’t.

The Shattering by Karen Healey contains several examples of one character simply not hearing what is being said.  The problem is that she interprets what other character say through what she thinks has happened.  Only later does she really understand what was said.

What can you do with the dialogue in your story to avoid the tennis match effect?   Is there some way that you can use dialogue to create tension or to mislead both your character and the reader?


Inspiration — paper cutting by Lisa Rodden

You all won’t be surprised when I tell you — again — how inspirational I find various types of paper art.  But this time around it isn’t origami or other folded paper.  It is cut paper.

Lisa Rodden‘s work shows me how subtle something can be and still get across what she is portraying.  Cuts of a knife through white paper reveal the colored beneath and out swims a koi.  Or out flies a crane.

Take some time to check out her work.  As you browse, consider how you use the interplay between light and dark in your own work.  Does your hero have a dark side?  A flaw?  Is your antagonist all bad?  Or is there a bit of color coming through his dark exterior?

Trust your reader to understand the subtleties that play through your work.  Light and shadow and peaks of color can reveal a lot.

Special thanks to Ann Martin who originally blogged about Lisa Rodden on her own blog, All Things Paper.

So often, we don’t count on our reader to get what we are doing.  Instead of using theme and detail to strengthen our message, we state it baldly.  Of course, that’s also when we get rejected for preaching

— SueBE

Thesaurus Abuse?

It started when we were watching the Olympics.  One of the Brazilian women’s beach volley ball players made the same play three times.  I don’t know the rules or techniques of beach volley ball, but the announcers were amazed that she would do this because it showed a lack of trust in her partner.  According to said announcer, she had “mis-mangled” the ball. Mis-mangled?  Does that mean she had mangled it in the wrong way?  Or had she meant to mangle it and accidentally improved it?  We never did figure that one out.

To my knowledge, Messner did not mismangle anything in her book.

Then a series of storms hit St. Louis and we were watching the weather.  People in the path were “implicated in the storm.” Hmm.  Does this mean that like the middle grade Eye of the Storm they were manipulating the weather in a naughty way?

I can almost get these two because I mis-speak on a regular basis.  Of course, I usually butcher proper nouns, most often names.  It is definitely embarrassing when it is someone I am speaking to.

But then I found two more instances of word abuse and these were in blog posts on a scientific site.

Apparently, to be in denial that something is possible is to practice “denialism.”

And you can also do things in a “tentative speculative fashion.”  I’m really not sure that I get how to do something speculative in a tentative way.  Does that mean that you are less certain, even more tentative, or that because you are being tentatively speculative that you are actually being more assertive?

Inquiring minds want to know — did some one “redecorate” the English language and forget to tell me?


Some of My Work Online

The UPS man did not show up when I was taking this photo. has posted another batch of my activities.  I’ll divide them up by type and tell you a bit about each.

Arts and Crafts

Menu Art” started out as a simple activity to help your child be more aware of what goes into planning a meal but morphed into a simple menu design.

DIY Luggage Tags” was one of the more challenging pieces to photograph but both my editor and I were happy with how it turned out.

Chalkboard Furniture” was another hard one to photograph because I don’t have a blank white wall bigger than the chair.  How to get the back to stand out?  Enter Jared.  Yes, the chair says “Rachel” but that’s not whose sitting in it and I have to give him credit because it was his idea.


Geometry Bulletin Board” required raiding someone’s room for the props.

Geometric Photo Collage” includes several different collages within the activity although I made only one for the photo.

Summer Bar Graph” was another difficult photo both because we had very little grass at the time thanks to the drought and there was just enough of a breeze to blow away the graph.


An “Apostrophe Poem” is a poem written to an inanimate object.

Back to School Poem” is a personification poem, written as if an object is doing the talking.  It sounded like a great idea until I had to come up with the poem.

Terse Verse”  Question:  What do you call a two word rhyming riddle?  Answer:  See project title.


Bending Light” is a two part experiment on refraction.

Spinning Color Wheel” is an experiment with light and color.

Social Studies

Map Your Route” involves wrapping the route from home to school.  We did mapping activities in Cub Scouts and I learned that kids really do need to work with maps before they understand them.

That’s it for now.  I just had my next batch of activities okay’ed by my editor so I’ll be writing, crafting and taking more photos.  Cue the UPS man who always shows up when I’m trying to get a tricky outdoor photo.