One Writer’s Journey

February 13, 2015

Backstory Battles

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:24 am

backstoryTo know your character, you need to know her backstory.  You have to know her past to know how she got to where she is when the story opens.  Unfortunately, backstory can be a troublesome thing.

First things first, how do you present it to your reader?  If you try to do it with flashbacks, you have to be very careful to avoid flashback failure.  You have to make it clear that what you are describing takes place in the story’s past.  When you finish the flashback, you have make it just as clear that you are returning to the story’s present.  Fail to do this and you run the risk of loosing your readers who will no longer know if they are reading about the story past or story present.

Backstory can also be a problem if you try to give the reader too much at once.  More than a few lines and you, the writer, might be accused of commiting an info-dump. “Here is a ton of backstory that you need to know and I am putting it all right here.”  This pulls the reader out of the story.

Last but not least, there is the problem of the fascinating backstory. Sometimes you may create such a fascinating past for your character that there is nothing exciting left for the present story.  If this is the case, you might simply have decided to start your story way too late.

Take a look at the backstory that you’ve created for your character.  Does it overpower the main story?  Do you know how to work it in?  You need it to make your character come alive so take the time to figure out how to present it to the reader.



February 12, 2015

How Long Does It Take You to Write a Book…

Nonfiction challengeSpecifically, how long does it take you to rough a nonfiction picture book?  I have several texts that have never gotten past the idea stage.  Others are well past the idea stage but draft one (or three) taught me what was wrong with the frame I was using and I stopped just short of roughing it out using the better frame.

Author Nancy I. Sanders may help me get past this.  She has issued a challenge complete with the tools we need to get the job done.  Her challenge — rough out a nonfiction picture book in three weeks.

You read that right — three weeks.  It sounds impossible but Nancy is realistic.  She expects us each to have the general idea (are you going to write about armadillos or eagles or time zones) and have the research materials in hand before we start this three week challenge.

The tools that she has shared include the idea of using a mentor text to get you started and a sample 3 week book calendar to show how she is blocking out her activities to get this job done.  You can use either her sample calendar or the blank calandar that she also provides.

I have a cave picture book that I’ve been wanting to write for ages.  I’ve bought some of the books and need to request the others.

What about it?  Are you up for Nancy’s challenge?



February 11, 2015

How to Choose a Market

to market pig 2In addition to my writing for Red Line Editorial, I’ve also been working at getting some of my own book manuscripts out there.  I’m submitting one of these manuscripts to publishers while I market a few others to agents.  Whether I’m submitting to agents or editors, I have to find a good match that isn’t too close.  Let me explain.

The chapter book that I’m submitting to publishers is about a boy who wants a pet scorpion, but ends up with a hermit crab he doesn’t really know how to care for.  To find a potential publisher I need to match:

Fiction vs nonfiction.  Some publishers do one but not the other.  I need to find a fiction publisher for this particular manuscript.

Level.  Not everyone is interested in chapter books so I have to find a publisher that not only wants this step between begining reaaders and middle grave novels.  At this point, I’m still submitting only to those who want chapter books.  Later I may expand to publishers who want “all levels.”

Category.  A publisher who only does science fiction or fantasty would be a bad match for this.  I need to find someone who does contemporary fiction.  So much of my fiction is fantasy that this means studying new-to-me markets.

Finding a match with just these three areas isn’t too difficult but then you have to consider the last two — belief system and gap.

Belief system.  I have to find a publisher who is interested in hermit crabs.  That isn’t too tough. A lot of publishers have books on hermit crab care but that is a problem.  In my story, my character decides not to keep a hermit crab because they are all captured in the wild.  A publisher who is teaching kids how to keep a hermit crab as a pet probably won’t adore this idea.

Gap.  Or, is there a space on this publisher’s list for my book?  If I know that a publisher is pro-hermit crab, that’s good.  The problem is that if the publisher has a hermit crab book, there may not be room for another.  A picture book but no chapter book?  That might be gap enough.

Fingers cross that I find just the right match.  If not, the problem may be that I don’t have a topic that is marketable on a national scale.  For more on how to find local topics with national appeal, check out my post today on the Muffin.


February 10, 2015

Diversity Reading Challenge

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:48 am
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Pam Loves Books, aka The Unconventional Librarian, has created a top-notch reading challenge for those of us who love books for children and teens.  The challenge, if you accept it, is a Diversity Reading Challenge.

Take a look at the graphic to the right.  I have to admit that although I read a wide variety of books, I’m not always incredibly conscious about whether or not they were written by a diverse group of authors.  To meet this challenge, I’m going to have to be more aware, but that seems to be the point.

What are some of the possibilities?  Admittedly, I’m going to interpret diverse rather broadly as in non-European-American.

1.  Sitting here on my desk is Separate is Never Equal.  The author is from Mexico.

2.  I’m not going to cheat and use book #1 again, but on my desk I also have Dreaming In Indian: Contemporary Native American Voices.

3.  What could I read for this one?  I like nonfiction so I’m considering Susan Kuklin’s Beyond Magenta.

4.  Again for me and nonfiction, but I will probably read A Boy and His Jaguar by Alan Rabinowitz.

5.  I’m tempted to go with the old favorite Hooway for Wodney Wat which I would not have chosen if I had considered how hard that would be to type.  But I want to read something new so I’ve requested Ben Rides On.

6.  I just read Josephine but I’ll look around and see what else I can find for this one.

7.  I’ve requested Firebird.

8.  I’ve requested On a Clear Day.  

9.  Another request, this time for Nathan Blows out the Hannukah Candles.

10.  One City, Two Brothers was awesome, but I want to find something new to me.

11.  Hmm.  I’ll admit.  This is something I generally avoid.  Call me whimpy.  Maybe The Mockingbirds?

12.  I’ve already read My Two Moms  and Patricia Polacco’s In Our Mother’s House.  Any suggestions for this one?


February 9, 2015

Answering Interview Questions

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:24 am
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InterviewLast month, Peggy Archer invited me to be the Missouri SCBWI PAL author for February.  At about the same time, I was asked to write a blog post for Alive Now.  Both requests involved answering four interview questions; in each case, I was provided with a list of questions and got to choose which ones to answer.  Before I could make my choices, I had to decide what I wanted to do with each interview.

I was pleasently surprised that the Alive Now choices included questions about both my writing life and my faith journey.  I can talk about writing all day long, but I find talking about my faith life difficult.  Still, it seemed strange to choose only questions about writing. Lucky for me that our pastor had recently discussed creativity and faith.  Before his sermon, I knew how creativity impacted my writing but he clarified how it also gives life to my faith.  Thanks to Pastor Sean, I chose questions that illustrated how important non-writing creativity is to both my faith and my writing.

Sometimes when you answer interview questions, it pays to start with something surprising and that’s what I did for the Missouri SCBWI interview.  I feel like I’m the only children’s writer on the planet who didn’t grow up wanting to write.  As much as I loved to read, being a writer never crossed my mind.  When I decided to pursue this as a career, I may have thought it came out of the blue.  Not, Mom.  She was relieved that I had finally figured it out.  Because I was a late bloomer, my family didn’t encourage my writing so much as my curiosity.

All interview questions are not created equal.  Before you decide which ones to answer, give them some thought.  An interview is a lot like an article.  Once you know what you want your readers, or listeners, to get out of it, you are ready to proceed.


February 6, 2015

Activity Writing

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:15 am
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When I write activities for, sometimes I pitch my ideas and then write-up the ones my editor selects.  That was the case with these Valentine’s Day activities.

Valentine’s Venn Diagram” to help teach about “same” and “different.”

Valentine’s Word Game” is a matching game.

I Love Syllables” for practice counting syllables.

Love Spoons” for a Valentine’s Day craft.

Heart Math” for conversation heart related math.

Cool Hearts” is an art project for slightly older kids.

She told me that she needed 3rd grade art, early grade school reading and math and then I pitch a whole list of ideas.  If she ultimately wants 20 write-ups, I try to send her 25-30 ideas.  This group here shows that you really can turn anything into a holiday related activity.  This not only interests young learners who want to do something related to various holidays but also interests editors when you send them ideas that are timely.

Sometimes my editor wants a project on something very specific and often already has the photo.  This take a different kind of creativity because I have to find something that goes along with the photo but somehow goes beyond it to become something “more.”  Admittedly, I prefer pitching and writing my own ideas but this is a different type of challenge and I like doing them too.  My last batch included:

Pinball Machine Game” for a fun rainy day game for a group.

Wax Paper Skating” which is pretty self-explanatory but was a challenge to write up.

Mini Ice Sculptures” sounds like an art project but actually lets young learners familiarize themselves with the properties of ice.

Suncatcher Craft” for a recycling project that uses old CDs or DVDs.

I really like working on activities after doing a bigger project like a book so over the next few weeks I may work on getting a few out to Highlights.




February 5, 2015

Try Try Something New

pathWhat goals are you consistently failing to meet?

For some writers it is the amount of writing they want to do.  They can’t seem to reach that word goal or the number of pages.

Other writers want to break into a specific market.  It could be picture books or children’s fantasy.  Yet, they are earning nothing but rejections.

Or it could be an earning goal.  Maybe you want to earn enough to pay your son’s tuition but you aren’t anywhere close.

Whatever it is, I’m asking you to take a look at your approach.  Consider the first time you tried to meet this goal.  What steps did you take?

Now think about the second attempt.  What steps did you take that time?

And the third attempt or the fourth attempt or the eighth.  What steps did you take?  Were they the exact same steps or very similar steps each time?  If so, shake things up.

For many of us, try, try again means try the same way time and time again.  We don’t change our approach in any meaningful way because we’re sure that we just didn’t try hard enough, weren’t lucky enough or somehow missed the big break, the secret handshake or the golden ticket.

I’d like to challenge you.  If you’ve been trying to meet a certain goal and failing, shake up your approach.  Can’t reach your word count goals?  Quit putting off your writing until you get home from work.  Maybe you’re a morning writer.  Try writing before work or during lunch. Can’t break into your chosen market?  Don’t just set word count goals or a goal to send out a certain number of queries.  Take a class.  Go to a conference and network.

Come up with a new approach.  It just might take you someplace new.



February 4, 2015

Prufrock Press looking for science writers

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:59 am
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Prufrock Press Inc.

Prufrock Press is looking for science writers.

Do you love to write about science?  Then take a look at this series being assembled by Prufrock Press.

Prufrock is the publisher for my friend Stephanie Bearce’s Top Secret Files books about history.  Stephanie is the sole author for her series where as this new series will be written by several different authors.  I know Stephanie has enjoyed working with Prufrock so I’m going to be pulling together a prospectus (proposal).

This series is for readers 8-12 years old and should focus on science experiments that didn’t go as expected, findings that are strange or gruesome and/or discoveries that shocked the world.

If this sounds like something you would want to write, click here and check out the full guidelines at Prufrock.


February 3, 2015

American Library Association Awards

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:55 am
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Yesterday the American Library Association named the latest recipients of their various medals.  I’m not going to duplicate the entire list here — the announcement is something like 2600 words long.  If you want to see the entire list, you can view it here.  I’m just going to give the Newbery and Caldecott and then comment on a few others.

Randolph Caldecott Medal for illustration to The Adventures of Beekle: The Unimaginary Friend written and illustrated by Dan Santat (Little, Brown and Company.)  I have to admit it — I started with this one because I’ve met Santat.  He was a keynote speaker at the Missouri SCBWI conference about two years ago.  If you have the chance, even if you’re a writer, hear him speak.  He is amazingly inspirational.

Caldecott Honor Books:
Nana in the City written and illustrated by Lauren Castillo (Clarion Books)
The Noisy Paint Box: The  Colors and Sounds of Kandinsky’s Abstract Art illustrated by Mary GrandPré, written by Barb Rosenstock (Alfred A. Knopf).  A most excellent picture book.  I highly recommend it to authors who do not illustrate.
Sam & Dave Dig a Hole illustrated by Jon Klassen, written by Mac Barnett (Candlewick Press)
Viva Frida written and illustrated by Yuyi Morales (Roaring Brook Press)
The Right Word: Roget and His Thesaurus illustrated by Melissa Sweet, written by Jen Bryant (Eerdmans Books for Young Readers).  I love Eerdmans and this one is conveniently sitting on my desk, waiting for me to read it.
This One Summer illustrated by Jillian Tamaki, written by Mariko Tamaki (First Second)

John Newbery Medal for writing to The Crossover by Kwame Alexander (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)

Newbery Honor Books:
El Deafo written and illustrated by Cece Bell (Amulet Books)
Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson (Nancy Paulsen Books/Penguin)

Laura Ingalls Wilder Award for an author or illustrator whose US books have made a substantial and lasting contribution to literature for children to Donald Crews.  I had to say something abut this one because Crews’ book, Freight Train, a 1979 Caldecott Honor Book, was one of my son’s favorites.  So glad to see Crews and his body of work for very young readers honored.

Robert F. Sibert Informational Book Award for nonfiction to The Right Word: Roget and His Thesaurus illustrated by Melissa Sweet, written by Jen Bryant (Eerdmans Books for Young Readers).  I love seeing nonfiction titles honored especially when  they are honored for being great books and not simply great nonfiction.  Yes, nonfiction can holds its own!

Sibert Honor Books:
Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson (Nancy Paulsen Books/Penguin)
The Family Romanov: Murder, Rebellion, & the Fall of Imperial Russia by Candace Fleming (Schwartz & Wade Books).  I haven’t read this one yet but Russian History was by far one of my favorite classes in high school.  Eager to read this.
Josephine: The Dazzling Life of Josephine Baker by Patricia Hruby Powell, illustrated by Christian Robinson (Chronicle Books LLC)
Neighborhood Sharks: Hunting with the Great Whites of California’s Farallon Islands by Katherine Roy (David Macaulay Studio).  I loved tihs book in spite of the fact that it is about sharks.  Yes, sharks are fascinating by they also freak me out.
Separate Is Never Equal: Sylvia Mendez & Her Family’s Fight for Desegregation by Duncan Tonatiuh (Abrams Books for Young Readers)

Definitely some great books on this list and I hope you will check out the ones in your category.  Keep your librarians busy!


February 2, 2015

Facing a Rewrite

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:25 am
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rewrite from commentsNot all rewrites are created equal.  I’ve had a few that were relatively pain-free.  In one instance, the editor needed a few more examples.  In another, I had to rewrite 6 sidebars because I had misunderstood the instructions. Unfortunately, this type of rewrite is the exception.  The one I just finished involved something like 120 comments throughout the manuscript.  Yep.  120 things to fix in a 50 page manuscript.  I’d love to say that I read through the comments and cheered.

The problem is that no matter how good the feedback is 120 comments is overwhelming.  120 comments make you feel like a faker — I’m not really an author; I’m just wearing an author’s hat.

That’s the problem.  Here’s the reality.  Getting past this sense of panic is tough but if you are going to write for a living, you need to learn.  Here are 4 simple steps to help you get the job done.

Realize that you and your editor have the same goal.  You both want to create the best book possible.  Your editor is not trying to drive you crazy with her pickiness.  He is not trying to prove anything.  The goal for you both is an excellent book.

Read and then wait.  I almost never read the letter or comments and then get right to work.  If there’s a lot to be done, it takes a while for it all to settle in my mind so that my changes are directed and focused and not panicky and frantic. If possible, I read the comments/letter and let it germinate for a day.

Reread.  Before getting to work, read it all again.  Now that you’ve calmed down, you’ll process the information differently. You also want to read all of the comments before you get to work.  Many of my editors comment as they work through the manuscript. This means that comment #75 may clarify comment #62.  Read the comments again.  All of the comments.

Be gracious.  Whether you write fiction or nonfiction, you aren’t going to agree with every request.  Fix those you can and be gracious about the rest.  I recently had an editor ask me to change a fact in a piece of nonfiction.  I could see why he thought I was wrong but I had done my reading.  I had to find a way to share my information without sounding like a snot.  It isn’t always easy when you’ve already worked through 52 comments, but find a way to be nice.

I love the process of watching a project come together.  So does my editor.  We are on the same team and it is in my best interest to remember that.


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