Poems: April Poem-a-Day Challenge

Do you dabble in poetry writing?  Even if poems are just a fun thing and not something to try to sell, consider Robert Lee Brewer’s 2015 April PAD challenge.

PAD stands for Poem-A-Day. Participating poets write one poem per day throughout the month of April.  Each morning, Robert provides a prompt.  Then participants write something based on that prompt.  Participants who post their poems on Brewer’s Poetic Asides blog have a chance to win publication in an anthology that will be published by Words Dance Publishing.  The anthology will be compiled from the top poems for each day. You can find out more about the challenge here.

I’m not a poet but I still like to participate.  I occassionally write poetry for fun, not for publication.  Because it is just for fun, that takes off a lot of the pressure and that makes it a lot more . . . fun.  Seems obvious, yes?

At the moment, fun is something that is seriously lacking in my writing.  I’m not whining but stating fact.  My current project is for Red Line and is titled “Black Lives Matter.” I’m writing about killings and beatings and all sorts of things that we all need to know about but are, frankly, depressing.  Because of this, I need to inject my writing day with a bit of fun and, for me, the PAD challenge sounds like the thing.

Care to join me?



Markets: Manuscripts Wanted

Call for SubmissionsHere are five publishers looking for manuscripts. The first three are themed publications for young readers.  They want pitches.

Odyssey is the science magazine for the Carus educational group.  The theme for January 2016 is Hidden Earth.  Here’s what the editors have to say about this topic: “ODYSSEY journeys to the most hard-to-reach locations on Earth. Who’s exploring them, and what’s still waiting to be discovered?”  Queries are due April 2, 2015 which is this Friday so don’t dawdle.  You can find out more about how to pitch to Odyssey here.  NOTE: If the editor’s don’t know you, you will need to supply clips.

Faces is another one from Carus educational, this time focusing on world cultures.  The theme for March 2016 is Kenya with queries due April 7, 2015.  Find out more about this opportunity here.

Appleseed is the Carus educational multicultural social studies magazine.  The theme for February 2016 is Soccer.  “It’s one of the most popular sports in the world…a look at the game of soccer, from kids all the way to the World Cup.”  You have a bit more time for this one.  Queries are due April 2015.  Find out more here.

Give one of these markets a try and you may find yourself adding a line to your writing resume.  Good luck!


Tension: How to build it in a well known event

TensionOne way to build tension in fiction is to hide information from your reader.  Of course, you also have to hide it from your narrator but it works to keep your reader on the edge of his or her seat.  How then do you do this in nonfiction?

If you are writing about a little known event, sometimes all you have to do is tell your story.  None of your readers know about this particular wagon train.  They haven’t heard about this specific blizzard.

But how do you write about a well known event like Pearl Harbor or the Titanic?  You take your clue from the above.  You zoom in on a very specific part of the story.

Adults and many teen readers know the story of Pearl Harbor.  When I wrote my book about this particular battle, it was obvious in chapter one that we lost.  In fact, that’s just about where I started — with the attack itself.  I then built up the tension by focusing on certain people:

  • a young welder who was blown overboard.
  • a pilot, wearing his pajamas, scrambling to fuel and arm an aircraft.
  • a new, inexperienced radar operator.

Readers skim the text wanting to see if these individuals survive and how they contributed to the day.  Were they heros or were they part of what went wrong?

You can also use knowledge of this big, bad end event to build the tension.  Let the reader know that it is coming, it is closer, it is here right about . . . NOW.

Fiction writers also create tension in the language and descriptions that they use.

For Pearl Harbor, this was easy.  The bombs I wrote about didn’t just “go off.” They exploded.  They blasted.  They detonated.  Aircraft looked lethal.

Whether you are writing fiction or nonfiction, building the tension takes attention to detail at the personal level.  Take the time to do it right and your reader will be pulled in until the bitter end.



Read Aloud: Using the Picture Book Chorus

Rather you are writing fiction or nonfiction, if you are writing a picture book, you need to create a great read aloud experience.  This is because picture books are most often written for prereaders.  Whether the book is read to a single child at bed time or read to a group at story time, picture books are often read aloud.  This means that making your manuscript a fun read aloud experience is key.

One way to do this is through a chorus.  A picture book chorus is any repeated line of text.  Not sure what I mean? Think back to your favorite folk and fairy tales.

The Gingerbread Man give you: “Run, run as fast as you can but you can’t catch me I’m the Gingerbread Man.”

With the Three Little Pigs you have two:  “I’ll huff and I’ll puff and I’ll blow your house down.” and “Not by the hair of my chiny-chin-chin.”

In the Three Bears it is “Just right.”

And it isn’t just the old stories that have a chorus as you will see if you pick up Wolfie the Bunny by Ame Dyckman and illustrated by Zachariah OHora.  In this story of a wolf adopted by a bunny family, you have the chorus “He’s going to eat us all up!”

A chorus makes a picture book fun to read aloud because it helps involve the audience of pre-readers.  As soon as they hears “He’s going” they join the adult reading Dyckman’s book with “eat us all up!”

What makes this chorus especially fun is that it isn’t used by only one character.  Wolfie’s adopted sister is the first to use the line and she is the one who says it most often, but at one point, her friends all see her new brother and join in chorus “He’s going to eat us all up!”

Can’t work a chorus into your story?  Don’t give up.  Rhyme, onomatopoeia, rhythm and word play all make for a fun read aloud experience.  Play with one or more and see what single or in combination makes your story into something more.


Deadlines: Procrastination and Writing

writing timeThis week, I’m not going to get much writing done.  I know this because my husband and son are both on Spring Break.  I used to be able to work with my son home but we have become That House.  You know the one where all the teens hang out?  It IS a good thing but it isn’t terribly conducive to writing.  Teen age boys are noisy beasts.

That wasn’t my excuse last week.  My first chapter and outline were due Friday.  Monday, I wrote my church blog. I went to the library.  And I roughed most of chapter one but I didn’t get that done until about 11:30 pm.

Tuesday I needed to rough my book outline.  That would give me time to rewrite the chapter Wednesday, ignore it all Thursday while my husband read it, and then rewrite and submit Friday.

So naturally I agreed to work at the highschool for 2 and 1/2 hours Tuesday.

It looks like procrastinating but something I’ve learned is that if I have the whole day to write, I won’t finish until late in the day and I’ll be flaky and strange because I do anything else worthwhile all day long.  If I volunteer at the high school, I’ll get started on my writing before I leave. That way I just have to finish when I get back.  If I have all day, I won’t even start until I’d be returning home from the highschool.

100% writing doesn’t work for me but neither does over booking my schedule.  The key is to find a happy medium.

What works best for you?

Check out my post on reasons we procrastinate over on the Muffin.


Picture Books: Mentor Texts

Mentor textsIf you’ve been reading my blog for any length of time, you know I’m a fan of using mentor texts.  A mentor text is a book that you use as a guide in one particular aspect of your own writing.

You might use Wolfie the Bunny as a mentor for including a chorus in your picture book.

Graceling is an excellent example of how to include a plot twist.

The Shattering has the best unrealiable narrator that I’ve ever encountered.

Any and all of Sharon Shinn’s texts are excellent examples of character description.  By the end of the book you KNOW what this character looks like but it is fed to you in dribs and dabs.

Need a lyrical text?  Look at Jane Yolen’s books.

But sometimes you chose a mentor text and it just doen’t work.  That was the case when I looked at Home by Caron Ellis as an example of how to bring my picture book ending home.  Ellis makes her book on varied home work by ending it at her own home.  Get it?  She brings it home.  I know.  It sounds corny but it really works.

I’d tried something similar with my prayer book.  But no one who read the new ending liked it.  It felt disjointed.  Compared to the rest of the book, it felt narrow.  And the really funny part?  After reading my manuscript, someone recommended that I read Home.  Been there.  Done that.  Have the draft to prove it.

Mentor texts are a great way of learning what can work in a story but sometimes they are just as valuable for teaching you what doesn’t.



Social Media: How to use it to market you and your book

Social Media Explained with CoffeeWhen I attended the March 14th Missouri SCBWI workshop on marketing and social media, I wasn’t sure what to expect.  I’d probably learn something but these events tend to leave me overwhelmed.  There’s just so much to do and I can’t possibley do it all, so why bother?

First things first, Kristi and Casey both explained the “why bother” of various types of social media.  Amazingly, each type of media from Facebook to Youtube is used in a different way.  You know that and I know that, but knowing how they are used is another situation.  Fortunately, Kristi shared the graphic at right.

Kristi also encouraged us to personalise our book marketing.  For Penguin Cha Cha, she takes a penguin photo board to her events.  Readers pose behind the board and have their photo taken as a dancing penguin.  She also taught them how to cha cha complete with lovely Latin dance hands!

Of course, since my book is on the Ancient Maya, this too gave me the giggles.  Get your photo taken as a Mayan king standing on the backs of your foes!   Here is a lovely book mark shaped like an obsidian knife!

Casey went on to reinforce how to create a platfrom that suits your pesonality.  Granted, I got the giggles when he talked about not trying to be cute if your books aren’t cute.  Rest assured, World.  I will NOT try to be cute.

He also emphasized the importance of creating a consistent online personality.  Part of this is using the same photo or image as the profile photo in each and every form of social media.  Not only did I not have a photo in the SCBWI Speakers’ Listing, the photo I had on Facebook doesn’t match the photo on my site.

Perhaps the most important idea was that we shouldn’t try to do it all.  Pick one or two things to do and do them well.  Otherwise, your list will be as long as the coffee graphic and you won’t do any of it.

If you ever have the chance to hear Kristi or Casey speak, do it! They are highly inspirational.  You will note – I may have not have an obsidian knife book mark, but I do have a photo linked to my SCBWI profile.

Special thanks to Marketplace Maven for creating this informative image.






Self publishing: No right or wrong answer

Self publishingLast week, I read with interest that Cheryl Klein’s writing how-to, Second Sight: An Editor’s Talks on Writing, Revising, and Publishing Books for Children and Young Adults, will be published by W.W. Norton.  What does this have to do with whether or not you should self-publish?  The book, which Klein self-published, is now in its fourth printing.

That’s right.  Klein, executive editor at Arthur A. Levine/Scholastic, originally self published the book.  It made sense when she did it because she had already written the talks.  Believe me, if you’ve ever heard her speak, her talks are detailed and contained a wealth of very specific information.  Instead of taking notes, she asked us to listen and she would send us the text of her talks.  To create the book, she compiled these talks.  Given that she already had the talks and that she has ready access to a well-defined market, it made sense.

But now she wants to update and expand the book. There will be a lot of new content.  It will be more comprehensive.  Klein has a good idea what she wants to do, but this time around she sought out an editor and a publisher.  Why?

As she explains on her blog: “. . . I was (and am) at a different place in my life than I was when I put Second Sight together, and I could really use the support, structure, challenge, and deadlines provided by a traditional publisher.

What I wanted to emphasize is what this new approach by Klein made clear to me.  There is no right or wrong answer in the self-publishing vs traditional publishing debate.  It is all a matter of what you need/want.

Traditional publishing offers:  design and editing; an editor that you have to listen to at least to some extent; external deadlines; and a host of people who will add their ideas to the project.

Self-publishing offers:  speed; a greater level of control; and more of the profits.

The path that you choose will depend both on what you need and what you want, but also where you are on life’s journey.  The decisions that you make today may not be the ones you would make in five years, but that’s okay.  Klein is making it crystal clear — you don’t have to choose self publishing or traditional publishing.  You can make a career out of doing both.





Writing Jobs or Help! I have a contract

Acknowledge your biasAbout a week ago, I got an e-mail from my editor.  Would I be willing to write a book about a hot button issue?

When I saw the issue, I cringed.  Black Lives Matter.

I didn’t cringe because I disagree.  Black lives do matter.  I cringe because it is necessary to state it.  I cringe because the statement is loaded.  And I cringe because I am one town over from Ferguson.  If you can’t place that place name, Google “Michael Brown.”  This isn’t an academic conversation for me.  This is happening in my back yard.

Any time that you write about something personal, you have a bias.  You have an opinion on the topic.

This doesn’t mean that you can’t write about something, but it can mean that writing about it will be difficult. The first step is in acknowledging your biases.  This might be where my political leaning pays off.  I’m more liberal than conservative, but I’m not at the far end of liberal.  Show me a source and I can tell you where the author falls on the political spectrum.  The situation is, at best, muddy.

One of the things that I like most about this editor is that she doesn’t insist on absolutes.  Witnesses contradict each other?  Say so.  Results were inconclusive?  Let your reader know. People contradicting each other? Write that down.

But I stilled worried about my biases muddying the waters so I told my editor where I live.  She didn’t even blink.  Or at least she didn’t type “blink” in her e-mail.  “No, I didn’t know that’s where you live.  But I imagine this is something that you’ve already given a lot of thought.”

Thinking and reading.  Reading and thinking.  Then I begin writing, carefully checking to make sure that my approach is balanced.



First Books: How likely is an agent to sell your first book?

Manuscript 1Recently, someone asked Janet Reid about the percentage of agent represented first novels that actually sell.  They had heard that only 50-60% of these first manuscripts ever find a publisher.  For her response about the accuracy, or not, of this question and why it is so hard to answer, click here.

The question reminded me of a discussion with my author friend Kris Nitz.  Kris had sent a manuscript to her agent.  While her agent liked it well enough, she wanted Kris to work on something else instead.  Why?  Because while the first manuscript was good, it wasn’t good enough to be her break out novel.

The first novel that you sell probably won’t be the first novel that you write. But that’s okay.  It can still help you find an agent.

Once you have that agent, she can market novel 1 while you write novel 2 and maybe even novel 3.  The beauty of the process is that with each creation, your writing gets stronger, your plots more intricate, and your characaters more real.

When your first book comes out, there is no name recognition.  This means that there has to be something there that will pull readers in even if no one knows who you are.  Maybe that appeal is a historic event on the eve of that event’s anniversary.  Maybe you wrote a singing pig book and singing pigs are now all the rage.  Whatever it is that your book has, this something special will draw in readers.  They will learn who you are and they will look for more of your work.

If Novel 2 is the one with this amazing ability to draw reader, it may be the first one that sells.  Manuscript 2 may actually become published book 1.  That means that novels 2, 3 and even 4 may sell before Novel 1 but that’s okay because with each sale, you gain more readers.  By the time, Book #1 comes out, they want more of your work.  Book #1 may not have had what is needed to generate a great deal of buzz but that doesn’t mean it will never see the light of day.

Take heart.   Put your butt in your chair.  And get to work on Novel 2.