FOX News: Black Lives Matter and how to deal with bad reviews

Black Lives MatterThis past week has been interesting.  I mean interesting in that midwestern sense — I don’t want to say anything mean so I’ll just say “interesting.”

It started last Sunday when a message popped up on my Facebook author page.  I don’t remember the exact working but apparently I am racist and “he” is right about me and my book (the poster has since deleted the message).  What the heck?  Who accuses you of being racist when you’ve written a book about the Ancient Maya?  Or Pearl Harbor?  I don’t have a copy of that yet but maybe . . . Slowly it dawned.  Black Lives Matter.  Sure, I expected a stink about this book, but I didn’t expect much to happen two months before the book came out.

Somehow FOX news and Larry Elder discovered my book.  The only facts they got right were the name of the book and the authors, myself and Duchess Harris.  What do you expect? They haven’t seen the book.  Thanks to FOX news, nasty comments popped up on Facebook and the book has 6 pages of nasty Google results.

In the past week, I’ve learned a few things about how to deal with negative reviews/news articles.  Hopefully you won’t need this advice, but here it is.

  1.  Do NOT respond.  This is tough when they’re making things up.  But don’t engage.  Don’t sarcastically thank them for sharing their opinion.  Don’t point out their factual errors.  As my friends have pointed out, haters gonna hate.  Let. It. Go.
  2. Stop reading .  It’s going to be tough because you want to know what people are saying about you.  DO NOT read this trash.  Do a Google search and look for positive stories to read.  How can you tell which ones are positive?  The search results don’t include words like “indoctrinate” or “fancy pants.”  Admittedly, I haven’t quite figured out the last one.
  3. No comments.  Don’t read the comments either.  You will not learn anything beyond how badly hateful people spell.
  4. Proceed with caution.  After this all started, several people contacted Duchess and I wanting interviews.  The temptation it to defend yourself and your book.  Check out each would-be interviewer.  Duchess and I talked to a few people and the facts about our book are making their way out into the world; see one article here.
  5. Be patient.  In about four days, it all more or less blew over.  I don’t know whether stirring things up myself would have made it last longer, but I would have been a lot more miserable for the duration.

Whether your hater is a reporter or a book reviewer, you aren’t going to win any wars if you engage.  Instead, work on your next book.  Duchess and I are doing the research and debating titles for our next joint effort.  More about that soon.


Diversity: What is Casual Diversity?

Since I’m now writing books that fall into the category of diversity, I decided I better educate myself when I ran into a new-to-me term — Casual Diversity.  Casual diversity is when diverse characters populate a story but the story is not about diversity.

For example, let’s say you are writing a series of fantasy novels.  In this fantasy world, some characters have amazing powers but these powers are often feared. In most territories within this story, these characters live under a veil of suspicion and have to directly serve their king or queen.  Only one territory is different but it is also geographically separated from the others and harder to reach so there has been less cultural exchange.  Your story is about a gifted character who wants to prove, to herself and others, that she isn’t all that bad even if her gift can easily result in someone’s death.

What the heck does this have to do with diversity?  This story idea may sound familiar if you’ve read Graceling, Fire or Bitterblue by Kristin Cashore.  Her stories are about characters struggling with magic. They are not about diversity, at least not directly.  And yet there are two men who are a couple and also two women. These aren’t the many characters but important secondary characters.  Casual diversity.

But not all authors and editors love this idea.  The concern that I’ve seen expressed most often is that in an attempt to create books with diverse characters, authors will more or less randomly assign a culture or race to various characters.  “She’s black.  He’s native american.  And that one?  That one’s muslim.”  While I can see their concern, to me that just sounds like sloppy characterization.  After all, we should all know the backstories for our characters and a character who is Black, Native American or Muslim will be shaped in subtle ways by their background.

Personally, my greatest concern is that these diverse characters will fall into stereotypes and cliches– the gay best friend who loves to shop, the sassy black girl, Chinese genius, and the black male athlete.  Let’s face it.  I’ve seen these characters.

That said, I don’t think that casual diversity is a bad thing.  In fact, I think that it’s a necessary thing.  We’ll know we’ve finally got it right when books that appear to be casually diverse are populated by three-dimensional characters that are both read and compelling.






Favorite Books: The Boxcar Children

Jared's islandRecently, I read a series of blog posts about favorite children’s books.  This got me thinking about my very own favorites.  There may have been one gold medalist but they was, in all truth, a list.

The Boxcar Children.  I discovered this one when I was 11.  I had just started at a new school but I was hardly alone.  A new area had been pulled into our district and the administration bussed us hither and yon.  I spent a lot of time in the library and I can’t even tell you how often I read this particular book.  Not the series.  I’m not even sure that I knew there was a series.  I read the first book again and again.  Wblack goldhat did I love about it?  That these kids took care of themselves without adult interference.  Yes, as an adult, I realize just how preposterous this was but as a kid I loved it.  They took care of each other without any of that Lord of the Flies nonsense.  They found the boxcar and they furnished it on their own. Take a look around my home and you’re going to see a host of found items.  My husband tries to be tolerant but he’s the only non-boxcar child in that particular sense.  This may be the book that I read the most but there were others as well . . .

Everything by Marguerite Henry.  The first book of hers that I owned was either Black Gold or Mustangs.  I was truly a horse crazy kid and I devoured these books.  I begged for these books.  I drove my mother a bit batty with these books (The only photo of my mother on horseback made it very clear that she was only tolerating the horse).  I loved that these books were often about real horses although the stories were made up.  My family has a strong Southern story telling tradition so even at a young age I got that link between fact on one hand and story on the other.

Jared’s Island by Marguerite De Angeli.  Yep. Another kid surviving without pesky adults book.  How much did I love this one?  Look at the title and you’re going to find my son’s name.

The crazy thing is that as I write this post, I think of book after book.  And as I think of each one, I think — ooo, that’s my favorite.  What else have I remembered?  The Little House books, The Tarzan books (yes the adult fantasy novels), Nancy Drew, Trixie Belden, Meg Mysteries, my grandfather’s Foxfire books, Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee.

Just as these books shaped me, they shape my writing in subtle ways.  I still love stories of kids who do for themselves (where are their parents ask my critique partners). And I love the subtly offbeat (Foxfire? Really?)  What were your favorite books?


Public Speaking: Newbie Orientation

MissouriOn Saturday, September 26, 2015, I will be giving the Newbie Orientation at the Missouri SCBWI Fall Conference, Soaring to New Heights.

This will be the second year that I’ve been in charge of this session — I hesitate to call it speaking because although I give tips I run it as a Question and Answer.  Sometimes the answers come from me.  Sometimes they come from someone else in the audience. When I first started speaking in public, I wouldn’t have been a very good choice for this session.  I was, as my grandmother called me, a Nervous Nelly.  To find out how I got past that, read my post today at the Muffin.

Even if you’re only attending sessions, vs leading them, the stress can get to a hard core introvert, such as many writers tend to be.  That’s why I lead this session.  If people don’t have questions that morning, they can ask me any time throughout the day.  What if they have questions afterwards, they can e-mail me.

What do I cover?

First I do a rundown on the day’s schedule.  What is happening when.

I also go into the basics of the facility itself.  This is where the bathrooms are.  All of the sessions are on this level.  Lunch will be served here.  We introverts are more comfortable when we have a plan.

Then I leap into conference etiquette.  I assure them that although they are well-behaved, not everyone is and thus headquarters requires me to ask them not to follow editors or agents into the bathroom to hand off their manuscripts and not to ask detailed questions about formatting their manuscripts, query letters and manuscript length (because those things are covered in the Keyboard to Printed Page handout).

I encourage them to interact with their fellow participants.  Most of them come there thinking “I’m going to connect with an agent or editor.” They sometimes forget what a wealth of information their fellows can be.  In fact, most of my sales have come through this kind of networking.

I only have about 30 minutes but can you think of anything else I should cover?


Back Pain: Writing and Your Lower Back

Unless you want to feel clunky, set a timer and when it goes off get up and move around.
Unless you want to feel clunky, set a timer and when it goes off get up and move around.

This past spring and summer, I suffered through several months of lower back pain.  What does that have to do with writing?  More than you might think.

Eighty percent of all people will have lower back pain at some point in their lives.  Yes, sometimes an injury is the cause.  Sometimes it is hereditary.  But most often, it is because we spend too much time sitting down.  The fact is that “butt in chair” can be contributing to “pain in back.”

Here are some things that you can do to help reduce lower back pain.  First things first, make sure your work space is ergonomic. This means that your thighs should be parallel to the floor. Yep, it is really uncomfortable at first but you adjust.  Your forearms should also be parallel to the floor.  To work out both the arm bit and the leg bit, you may have to use a foot rest.  Thankfully, I’m tall.  Your monitor should be at eye level and about an arm’s length from your face.

That’s a start, but it isn’t all of it.  You also need to limit how much time you spend with butt-in-chair.  I do this by working with a timer.  I use an online timer so that I’m not distracted by the ticking and I set it for 20 to 25 minutes.  Yes, 20 to 25 minutes.  When I started this, I already had the back pain and sitting only made it worse.  When the timer goes off, I get up and put in a load of wash, shift a load to the dryer or pull weeds for a few minutes.  Sometimes I even iron a shirt.

The disgusting reality is that all of this seems to be working together to help my back.  Hopefully some of these tips will help you deal with mild pain or keep you from getting into this situation.  If you’re having serious pain, please go to your doctor.  I put it off for several weeks and still wish I had been less stubborn.

Do you have your timer set?  You need to get up and move around in 20 or 25 minutes.  I wasn’t joking!



Mo SCBWI conference

MissouriIf you are interested in writing or illustrating for children and live in the St. Louis area, consider attending “Soaring to New Heights: Missouri SCBWI Fall Conference.”  Friday, September 25, is devoted to critique meetings but those slots have already filled.  There are approximately 20 slots still open for Saturday, Sept. 26, which includes the various workshops and speaker sessions.  Here is the Saturday schedule.

Saturday, September 26 (Lindenwood University, Rooms to be announced)

8-8:30 Registration and breakfast snacks /Newbie Orientation led by Sue Bradford Edwards (Subtle, aren’t I?  This is my session.)

8:30-8:45 Opening Remarks 

8:45-9:30 EB Lewis keynote “Writing with Pictures”

9:30-9:45 Break

9:45-10:45  Breakouts (you choose one)

1.  Author/Illustrator EB Lewis for all Illustrators (picture book writers, too!)  “The Hook of the Book” PART ONE 

(PLEASE NOTE: This session will run ALL day- through both breakouts and the intensive. You may choose to attend all or only a part of it.)

2.  Agent Brianne Johnson: “Character-driven Picture Books

3.  Editor Connie Hsu:   The Road Less Traveled: Choosing Diversity.”

10:45 Break

11:00-12:00 Breakouts  (you choose one)

1.  Author/Illustrator EB Lewis: For all Illustrators (picture book writers, too!) “The Hook of the Book” PART TWO

(Please note: You do not have to attend part one to attend part two.)

2.   Agent Kirsten Hall: “PB: How to Market and Pitch Them

3.  Editor Kate Sullivan: “Guide to MG/YA Genre Fiction

12:00-12:45 Lunch 

12:45-1:00 Announce 2016 Mentee Winner & 2016 Mentor Jennifer Brown, PAL Recognition Slideshow

1:15-4:15- Intensives (you choose one)

1.  Illustrators (picture book writers, too!): “The Hook of the Book” Part THREE E.B. Lewis

(Please note: You can attend this intensive with E.B. Lewis, even if you did not attend part one and part two.)

2.  Picture Book Intensive for Authors led by Peggy Archer, Kirsten Hall & Connie Hsu

3.  Middle Grade & Young Adult Authors led by Jennifer Brown, Brianne Johnson, & Kate Sullivan

4:15-4:30 Break

4:30-5:15 Authors: First Five Lines with Hall, Hsu, Johnson & Sullivan in Main Conference Room.      Illustrators: Postcard Evaluations with EB Lewis

This is always a fun day and I’m looking forward to the variety of things I’m sure to learn.  If you are interested, you can find more information here.


The Read Quarterly

Screenshot 2015-07-30 08.36.10A new quarterly magazine about international children’s literature will be available in January 2016.  The first will include pieces on artisan publisher Tara Books, Michael Heyman discussing “nonsense,” and Eleanor Taylor sharing her thoughts about Beatrix Potter and the loss of childhood. The journal will focus on the culture of children’s books and will feature stories about publishers, book creators, and the traditions of this amazing body of literature. In addition to critical content, the magazine will also feature original fiction.

The magazine will be produced in the U.K. by co-founders Sarah Odedina (young readers’ publisher, One World) and Kate Manning (sales and marketing director, Phoenix comic).   have announced the launch of a new magazine on children’s literature. The Read Quarterly will look at the The contributors and focus of the magazine will be international, though published in English, with the first issue expected in January 2016.

Although the pieces will be thoughtful, this is not an academic journal.  Nor will it be full of reviews.

To find out more about Odedina and Manning’s plans, contact them at



Story Shapes: Plotting Our Characters Ups and Downs

Kurt Vonnegut - The Shapes of Stories by mayaeilam.

Recently I saw this infographic about the Shapes of Stories.  The idea is that when you plot out your characters ups and downs, you come up with a story arc or story steps in a recognizable pattern.  This has me thinking.  Take a story that either doesn’t work yet or that you haven’t been able to sell.  Does it conform to one of these shapes?  If not, could that be part of the problem?

You don’t hear about this idea the way you hear about Campbell’s character archetypes but if you can have character types that have spoken to people through the ages, can some similar be said about characters?

No, I don’t have any answers.  I’m still just mentally playing with this idea.  What do you think?


Warnings: May Not Be All They’re Cracked Up To Be

“My world history teacher is going to be your favorite.”  That was one of the first things my son had to say to me when he got home from his first day of his junior year.  Since he’s sixteen, this could be a case of Mom Baiting.  If that was the case my son’s next line might be “He let’s us do all our research on Wikipedia” or “We’re studying Atlantis.”

But it wasn’t.  This time he was being sincere.  “We’re starting with the Big Bang and we’re going to learn about Darwin.”  Be still my heart!  No, I didn’t do a happy dance because we were in public but I did send up a prayer of thanks.  Yeah, I get the irony but that’s the beauty of being me.  I’m complicated.

A year or so ago, I took a class on teaching evolution in the classroom.  Yes, it was about evolution but more than that it was about how to teach science.

When I told my critique group about it and how many ideas I was getting, one member firmly shot me down.  “They may want you to think you’ll be able to write about this, but no one’s buying.  Not evolution.  Schools are being forced to teach Creationism.”  Since this person was a guidance counselor, I took this as solid advice.

Now I’m not so sure.  Clearly, not everyone is teaching creation.  My son’s highschool is studying the Big Bang and Darwin in history.  We’re in Missouri folks, not exactly a hot-bed of liberalism.

I wish I hadn’t been so easily dissuaded.  My advice to you?  If you are enthusiastic for a project, don’t drop it on one bit of advice.  A book on evolution may not be easy to sell, but what is?  I’ll just have to do my market research and find the publisher who wants what I have to sell.


Work Habits: How do you write?

work habitsDo you have to write in a specific place such as your office?  Maybe you only write first drafts long hand, polishing things up on the computer.  One of the things that we quickly learn as writers is that what works for you may not work for me.  Check out this infographic to see how these famous writers write/wrote.


I have to admit — Mark Twain’s lying down would not work for me.  I’ve tried working on my laptop sitting on a bed or chair.  Nope.  I need a table or desk.

I’ve seen King’s work space before.  It is in the corner of his living room.  He likes to be in the middle of the action.  Good for him.  I can’t do that either.  I can iron or mend in the middle of the action but not write.

I love Vladimir Nabokov’s index cards.  Back in the old days, I took notes for books on note cards.  I’ve also written picture books on post-it notes.  Makes it much easier to see the whole and play with the order.

Nude?  All I can think is that suitcase does not look comfortable?  Not one little bit.

So clearly I’m not recommending all of these methods but maybe you’ll see one that either reminds you of how your work or inspires you to try something new.  NEW, not necessarily nude.