One Writer’s Journey

August 15, 2014

How-to Write like a Spook

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:07 am
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spookI’m not sure what I was expecting from the Directorate of Intelligence Style Manual and Writers Guide for Intelligence Publications, 8th Edition (2011).  Certainly the organization that calls their training base “Camp Swampy” or “The Farm” would come up with something . . . creepy but interesting.

Seriously, it’s just a style guide.  Think the Chicago Manual of Style with a somewhat less attractive cover.

That said, the organization obviously recognizes the importance of clear writing from research, to slant, to the actual scripting of the manuscript.

“The depth of our knowledge, the strength of our thinking, and the power of our words will ensure that our customers, from policymakers to operations officers, continue to rely on the Directorate of Intelligence.”

Wow.  Customers.  Maybe it is a little creepy after all.

Check it out here to see Agency protocal when writing indefinite numbers, foreign terms, and more.  An excellent resource if your protagonist inadvertently intercepts information meant for someone who may, or may not, be up to something.



August 14, 2014

Experts: Primary Sources that give you the Last Word on a Topic

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:11 am
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ExpertI’m working on a new nonfiction topic and, as usual, I’ve picked a tough one.  I say as usual because this is the second project I’ve done that features a large number of different animals.  Last time it included octopus, flounder, bittern, zorilla and jaguar.  This time, I’ve researched house flies, white-tailed deer, bull frogs and rats.

The problem with all of this animal research is trying to find accurate biology on either pest animals or game animals.  Scientists research exotics but things closer to home aren’t as “sexy” and don’t draw as much attention. A lot of the information that I do find is anecdotal or what I lovingly call folksy.  I need science with real research.  I know that’s narrow minded of me but it seems to make my editors happy.

Sometimes I think I have enough information until I try to write.  As I try to describe whatever process, I just can’t pull it together.  That’s when I know I don’t have enough information.  What to do?

  1. Do another search.  Usually I’ve refined my knowledge and can come up with better key words by now but that doesn’t always mean that I can find additional articles.  Still, I try.
  2. Look for a name.  Whether I’ve found 2 articles or 10, if my knowledge is incomplete, I need to find more.  I pull up the most helpful article and look for a name.  Who wrote the article?  Who did this person interview?
  3. Send an e-mail.  If the author of the helpful article was the expert, that’s who I e-mail.  If not, I look for people they might have interviewed.  In my e-mail, I introduce myself as a children’s writer.  “I’m not sure I understand this and I want to make sure that I don’t mislead my readers.”
  4. Wait.  Once I’ve sent out the e-mail, it’s time to work on something else.  If I haven’t heard from anyone in two or three days, I look for another person to contact but I’m always amazed by the number of busy researchers who want to teach kids about their topic.

Going to the experts is the best way for me to find the information that I need to create a clear explanation picture for my readers.  Experts always know more than they’ve written.  Fortunately, they are often more than willing to share.




August 13, 2014

CBC Projects Top Sellers

Childrens Book Council logoIf you want to know which books the Children’s Book Council thinks are going to be top sellers, check out their listing “Hot Off the Press.”  The books on the list have either recently been released or are forthcoming, but they are all books that the CBC predicts will make it big.  The exciting news for me?  My friend Darcy Pattison has a book on the August list.  You’ll find  Kell, The Alien, Book 1 in the Alien, Inc series in the first column.  Woo-hoo!

The complete August list, minus book descriptions, is as follows:

  • About Parrots: A Guide for Children by Cathryn Sill
  • Alfred Ollivant’s Bob, Son of Battle by Alfred Ollivant, in a new version by Lydia Davis
  • Aliens, Inc. Series, Book 1: Kell, The Alien by Darcy Pattison
  • Animal School: What Class Are You? by Michelle Lord
  • Blind by Rachel DeWoskin
  • Call Me Isis by Gretchen Maurer
  • Cast Away on the Letter A: A Philemon Adventure by FRED
  • Dash by Kirby Larson
  • False Future by Dan Krokos
  • Mira’s Diary: Bombs Over London by Marissa Moss
  • National Geographic Little Kids Look and Learn: Things That Go by National Geographic
  • Next Time You See the Moon by Emily Morgan with photographs by Tom Uhlman, NASA, Steven David Johnson, Judd Patterson, and
  • P is for Pirate by Eve Bunting
  • The Phoenix Files: Doomsday by Chris Morphew
  • The Witch’s Boy by Kelly Barnhill
  • yolo by Lauren Myracle

This whole thing has me jazzed because . . . well, look at who else is on the list.  Darcy is up there with Kirby Larson, Eve Bunting and Lauren Myracle. There’s a book from National Geographic.

That makes this a solid lesson in “the cream will rise to the top and some of that cream will be from independent presses.”  That’s right.  Darcy’s book is independently published.  Read more about her work here (Part 1 and Part 2).

But until then, let’s celebrate.  Woot!  Woot!


August 12, 2014

What Tools Do You Need to Write?

ToolsAsk 10 different writers and you’re going to get 10 different answers.  These answers will vary by equipment (PC, desktop, Mac, laptop, or tablet), program (Word or Scrivner) and even location (home office, coffee shop, dining room table or library).

Do you know what this variety should tell you?  That there is one thing and one thing only that you need to write your novel, article or poem.

You absolutely without fail must have your imagination.

Everything else is somewhat optional.  Really.  I mean it.  I prefer to work in my home office on my desk top.  No, it isn’t portable but I can shut the door and have some control over my environment.  That said, I’ve also drafted a picture book on Post-It notes, articles on a laptop in a dining hall and another book in a notebook on the tailgate of my SUV while my husband and son were shooting.

Mark Twain wrote with a fountain pen on paper at this desk.  Yes, the desk has extra fancy turned legs, but I doubt seriously that affected his productivity.

Rowling charted the amazingly complicated world of Harry Potter on loose leaf paper.  She didn’t have spread sheets or a computer.

Yes, certain environments are more conducive to writing than others but don’t let that by your reason for not writing.  Instead let your imagination pull you into your story and use it to spin something that is uniquely your own.  Maybe this time you’ll do it sitting in the park and the next time you’ll be at home in your kitchen.  As long as you have your imagination, you have what you absolutely must have to work.


August 11, 2014

Spoilers: Do they ruin the story or not

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:14 am
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SpoilerWhen I review a book, I try not to include spoilers, limiting plot comments only to the beginning and middle of the story.  What is the conflict and why is it so awful?

Personally, spoilers don’t freak me out.  I’m the person who likes print books best because, after reading two or three chapters, I can flip to the end of the book and read the last two chapters.  This doesn’t mean I’m going to stop reading the book – unless the ending ticks me off (I don’t want to see the ending coming in chapter 3).  I will still finish the story if I’m surprised by the ending and if I enjoy the author’s writing.

Yes, its a bad habit but it is also a habit born of reviewing books.  When I had to review 6 to 8 novels in one column, I knew I didn’t I wouldn’t want to review every book I read, but I didn’t have time to read 15 or so books cover to cover.

Still, I try not to spoil the plot for those who easily kerfuffle.  And, I also freely admit that this is me and books.  DO NOT SPOIL A MOVIE ENDING FOR ME.  Do not.  My feelings about that are completely different illogical though that may be.

Then I read a Discover Magazine blog post on spoilers.  A recent study shows that spoilers do not, as the name implies, spoil the story for those who have yet to reach the end.  Apparently, with the ending in mind, they are able to appreciate the clues carefully laid by a talented author so that the ending is satisfying but not entirely expected.  They believe it is the similar to the enjoyment that we get when we read an old favorite.

The author also points out that certain genres are more or less their own spoilers.  In a romance, you expect the couple to fall in love (or lust), be horribly seperated, and have to struggle to be together.  In a mystery, the detective will solve the crime.

I get it, but don’t tell me how the movie ends.  I may love it enough to watch it more than once, but at least the first time, I want to be at least a little surprised.



August 8, 2014

Problem Jobs: That’s Not What I Agreed to Do

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:07 am
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ContractI very seldom take writing jobs outside of the publishing industry, but when I do, I make sure that I get a contract that spells everything out.  The things that I include are:

  • The scope of the work.  What will Ido for them?
  • The deadlines.  When does it need to be done?
  • Format and delivery?  Do they want text files or do I need to do book design?  And do they want print copies or an electronic file and in what format.
  • Termination date.  When does the contract end?

It sounds overly particular, but sooner or later, every freelance writer ends up with a problem job.  I had one client try to double my work load.  I also had a client come back to me after 12 years and try to get me to update a job for free.  I originally delivered text and they hired someone else to do the book design.  They want me to “update” my files to reflect her design and update the information as well.

If you are going to do any type of business writing, be sure to spell everything out in the contract.  It protects you from unreasonable demands.  It also helps them know that you understand what they want.  If something hasn’t been communicated, it can be cleared up at this early stage rather than later.

It is just as vital to have things in writing when dealing with an editor or someone in the publishing industry but, for whatever reason, misunderstandings seem to come up more often when I work outside the industry.  In part, I think this is because my clients don’t speak the language of publishing.  A contract with specifics can help you avoid misunderstanings and hurt feelings.



August 7, 2014

Slant: Choosing Your Approach

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:19 am
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slantA couple of years ago, I pitched a cookbook series to a publisher who utlimately passed on the project.  The books feature fun recipes grouped around a theme — Book 1: Knights,  Book 2: Pirates, and Book 3: Mummies.  The only book that had any overlap with an already published book was pirates and the competitor was more “craft food” than actual recipes.  Still, it was competition so I’ve been noodling over ways I might strengthen it before I send it out into the market place.

At this point, my pitch has a humorous slant.  The knights’ recipes include food to lure in an ogre, what to do with the dragon once you’ve vanquished it, treats for your steed and the like.

Another slant would be historic.  I could give historically accurate information about knights and then recipes that show what they ate.

Is there a right way?  Maybe.  I want to come up with something that will sell.  Humor sells.  But teachers and home schoolers also like fact.

Is there a wrong way.  Again, maybe.  I don’t want to do what’s already been done.  I also don’t want to do what no one will buy.

Silly or historic?  I’ve been bobbling back and forth all summer.  Then I picked up Jane Yolen and Heidi Stemple’s Fairy Tale Feasts.  Yolen adapted the fairy tales and Stemple wrote the recipes.  Fairy tales are both silly and historic and Yolen’s sidebars include lots of additional scholarly information.  I was in heaven.  Stemple’s recipes aren’t what I call craft recipes — mix fish-shaped crackers with blue jelly beans and call it mermaid food.  This is real cooking.

So I’m still noodling.  I want the books to be fun.  My son loved making cookies that looked like bones and blue gelatin with Swedish fish suspended in it to look like a fish bowl. That said, I also love the idea of having fun while learning.

Obviously, all I’ve seen is that you can combine to the two.  The answer may be to write about ten pages using several different slants and then see which one I like best.  I’m still thinking . . . thinking . . . thinking . . .



August 6, 2014

Blending Fact and Fiction: My July Reading

I read several books this past month that blend serious amounts of fact into fictional stories.

In the mystery A Hitch at the Fairmont, author Jim Averbeck introduces young readers to Alfred Hitchcock.  Hitchcock isn’t just window dressing in the story; he’s an actual character.  That said, the story is purely fiction.  This means that Averbeck had to stay true to who Hitchcock was and how he was known to behave while creating a compelling story.  Read this one for an example of how to work a real person into your fictional story.

The Fourteenth Goldfish by Jennifer L. Holm is about a girl who gets the chance to know her scientist grandfather after he invents a youth serum and once again becomes a teenager.  He teachers her about science and the scientific method, introducing her to Curie and Oppenheimer.  The information on these scientists and their work is 100% true as is the general information on jelly fish.  Still, the story is science fiction.

Other stories also worked in traditional tales.  The first I read was Maggie Stiefvter’s The Scorpio Races.  She built her novel around the water horse myths, combining the folklore found in various cultures throughout the British Isles and into other parts of Europe.  Working with all of the elements of the tales didn’t work so she eliminated a few things in order to create a fictional story that worked at every level vs simply being a vehicle for the folkore.  This is an excellent example of how to make a folk tale work in fiction.

If you are inspired to write a fictional story around fact, check out these books as three that worked especially well.

Below is my reading list for the month.

July Reading:

  1. Auxier, Jonathan. The Night Gardener (Amulet Books)
  2. Averbeck, Jim.  A Hitch at the Fairmont (Simon and Schuster)
  3. Chin, Jason. Gravity (Roaring Brook Press)
  4. Heitzmann, Kristen.  Twilight.  (Bethany House)
  5. Henkes, Kevin.  The Year of Billy Miller (Greenwillow Books)
  6. Holm, Jennifer L. The Fourteenth Goldfish (RandomHouse)
  7. Kuhlmann, Torben.  Lindbergh: The Tale of a Flying Mouse (North South Books)
  8. McRae, G.C.  The Seven Sisters  (MacDonald Warne Media)
  9. Pattison, Darcy.  Saucy and Bubba (Mims House)
  10. Sparks, Nicholas.  The Best of Me (Hachette)
  11. Stewart, Melissa.  Animal Grossapedia (Scholastic)
  12. Stiefvater, Maggie.  The Scorpio Races (Scholastic)
  13. Yolen, Jane and Heidi E.Y. Stemple.  Fairy Tale Feasts: A Literary Cookbook for Young Readers and Eaters (Crocodile Books)



August 5, 2014

Call for Manuscripts: Shine

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:47 am
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Call for SubmissionsThe February 2015 issue of SHINE brightly magazine focuses on bullying and the editors are accepting ficiton and nonfiction on this topic.   Here are some things you need to know about this magazine.

This is a Christian magaine.

They have this to say about the topic – “Whether it’s on the bus, in a school hallway, or online, girls are experiencing, witnessing, and acting like bullies. And this is a big problem! This issue will look at what it means to love your neighbor as yourself and stop the bullying!”

Editor’s name:  Kelli Gilmore.

Word count: 700-900 for fiction; 200-800 words for nonfiction.

Right:  First Serial.

Payment: Up to $35/story.

There is a deadline for this topic — 9/1/2014.

Check out the complete guidelines here; this is also the place to read the detailed theme list.

Good luck sending in your work!



August 4, 2014

Reprints: One Way to Increase Your Income

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:59 am
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reprints2If you make your living as a writer, you have to get a certain amount of work out there to actually make this possible.  It isn’t just word count that matters but also earning potential.  A 500 word all-rights piece for $250.00 may bring in a fair amount right this minute but ultimate earn less than a limited rights sale on a piece that you can sell to multiple markets.

There are two things that you have to do to make this possible:

  • You have to retain some of the rights.  If you sell all rights, the publisher has all rights to the piece.  You can’t use it again.  They, on the other hand, can publish is multiple times without paying you any more after that first check.  Note:  Highlights buys all rights but compensates the author if the piece is used more than once.  To sell a piece as a reprint, you have to have retained rights to it.  If your original contract was for first (North American) serial rights, one-time rights, non-exclusive rights, or rights reverting to the author, you’re good to go.
  • You have to find subsequent markets.  Although this isn’t the norm, some pieces are so highly specialized that you can’t expect to find numerous additional sales.  Even if a piece is general enough to appeal to multiple markets, you have to find markets that accept reprints.  Depending on your original contract, you may also have to limit yourself to noncompeting markets.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot because one of my editors is now at Schoolwide.  So far, she has signed four reprints and asked me to rewrite a previously unsold piece of reader’s theater.  Although you may have to do some work before you submit a reprint, it is much less work than writing a new piece.

Definitely something to keep in mind as you try to pay the bills on your writing income.

For more about what I learned while submitting reprints, check out my post today on the Muffin.


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