Writing Fantasy

fantasyNot long ago, a post was going around Facebook and various writing and book blogs.  Apparently J.K. Rowling had finally revealed the correct pronunciation of Voldemort’s name (silent T).

I have to admit that I was a little “that’s what you get” about the whole thing.

If you write fantasy or science fiction, you spend a certain amount of time world-building.  This world-building can consist of the actual planet your character is on, the society in which he lives and even language.  When some writers play with language for their stories, they create names for the characters.  Rowling had Voldemort (silent T).  McCaffrey had F’lar and Robinton.

Done well, if you add more layers and more details the story becomes more real.  But it can also be confusing for the reader if this reality involves a lot of author-created (polite term for made up) character names, place names and nouns.  The author has to be careful introducing these elements because if you pile on too many too fast the reader has troubles keeping track of them. You also can’t have multiple names that sound too much alike — starting with the same letter, having the same number of syllables, or rhyming.  That confuses the reader too.

As Rowling, and many a writer before her, discovered, it also becomes problematic when the reader isn’t sure how to pronounce the author-created names.  You can provide a handy-dandy pronunciation guide but I have to admit that as a reader these grow tedious really, really fast.  I’ll flip over to see how to say the first two or thee names but then I don’t them.

As vital as your fantasy world is for a strong story you also have to make it truly accessible to your reader, pronunciation and all.



Activities: My most recent batch of activities online

education comJust as I was getting ready to stop working Wednesday afternoon, I got some good news from my Education.com editor.  My latest batch of activities are up.

3-D Pumpkin Collage.”  I had a nice little surprise when I pinned this one.  Someone else had already pinned it.  Yay!
Autumn Beaded Bracelet.”  I actually wear this one several times a week.  Two different people have asked me to make this bracelet for them.
Autumn Leaf Bowl.” After taking the photos for publication, I spray painted these bronze.
Autumn Tree Paintings.” I really liked the way this painting turned out.
Felt Jack-O-Lantern.”  Felt scraps can come in handy. This one had also been pinned.
Spooky Self Portrait.” Another one that was a lot of fun.

Language Arts:
Autumn Cinquain.” I love writing poetry activities.  If only I was a poet!
Before and After Halloween Acrostic.” Coming up with an interesting photo for a poem is tricky.  I employed the skeletal Jimmy Gibbs, Jr. for this one.

Paper Pumpkin Numbers.” Preschool math activities generally sell well because they aren’t easy to develop.  1 math activity, 16 others in this batch.

Autumn More or Less.” Learning to weigh.
Candy Corn Balance.” A tricky one to photograph.
Candy Corn Science.” When you buy something like candy corn for a set of activities, try to use it more than once. This one was also pinned.
Glowing Eyes.” This one was a lesson in “you need to try it before you write it up.”  Didn’t work quite how I thought it would.  Fortunately, I was the one to find that out.
Pumpkin Measurements.”  A lesson in the different ways you can measure the same thing.
Scary Science with Spiders.” How to make your own sticky spider web.
Skeleton Hand Print.” Activity #4 that had already been pinned.


This is the first time that I’ve had any activities pinned before I could get to it.  And it wasn’t one but four.  So often we send our work out and are never sure that it connect with people.  This was a nice change.

For those of you in the US, I hope you are finding some time to spend enjoying the holiday weekend.  Take some time to recharge so that you can get going on your writing Monday morning.


Happy Thanksgiving!

Happy ThanksgivingFor those of you who are in the US like I am, today is Thanksgiving Day.

We’re always warned not to make assumptions during the holidays.  Don’t assume that everyone has a loving family to spend time with.  Don’t assume that everyone enjoys this time of year.

I understand that but I’m still going to make an assumption.  I’m going to assume that if you’re reading this that you are a writer or are interested in writing.  I’d like to encourage you to spend a few moments in contemplation and consider this — what are you thankful for in the writing realm?

I am thankful that I make my living as a writer.  Yes, part of this is due to hard work on my part, but not all of it.  There are a lot of hard working writers who don’t have a supportive spouse.  I am thankful that I have a spouse who supports this way of life even if he doesn’t always “get it.”

I am thankful for my co-author Duchess Harriss.  Whenever I write a book for Red Line, they bring in an expert to evaluate my work.  Not surprisingly, someone with a greater depth of knowledge then I posess always comes up with something that needs to be changed.  Duchess is a step beyond this.  She took ownership of the book in a way that none of the other experts have done and immediately saw what it could be.  Thank you to Duchess for helping Black Lives Matter be that book, definitely a step above and beyond the book I had created on my own.

Last but not least, I am thankful for the online writing community.  When I started writing, I was one woman sitting in her kitchen with an electric typewriter or working on the PC in my spare bedroom.  I hadn’t gotten involved in the internet to any great extent and blogging wasn’t a thing.  Now I’m part of a vibrant, giving community.  I’d like to thank all of you for that.

I definitely have plenty of reasons to be thankful.  I hope that you do too.



Don’t Apologize: Just Write the Book

One starWhen I saw this button on my friend Janni’s Facebook wall, I thought about some writing advice that I’d heard in relation to 50 Shades of Gray.  “Readers love unapologetic authors.”

I don’t know that that is always the case, but I definitely agree with the button. A book that excites strong feelings in your reader will bring positive reactions from some readers and negative reactions from others.

I learned that lesson with Black Lives Matter.  Some reviewers declared it the book that needed to be written. The one that finally tells the whole story.  Other reviewers decried it as anti-white and horribly biased and what is wrong with our schools today.  Absolutely no one said “It was so-so.”


What story do you have to tell that is going to be a bit more reality than some people are prepared to handle?  It might be nonfiction like Black Lives Matter. Nonfiction doesn’t have to be about race to be unapologetic.  A book about human evolution that doesn’t pull any punches in order to avoid offending creationists is unapologetic.  Unapologetic stories can be told about politics, gender studies and more.

But that doesn’t mean that an unapologetic book has to be nonfiction.  Many of these books are fiction.  The funny thing is that fiction doesn’t even have to be realistic to be real.  Divergent and The Hunger Games are both apocalyptic science fiction but they also depict human nature in a stark, unapologetic light.

That’s the story that you need to tell.  That is the story that will elicit a reaction from your readers.


Recent Finds

old booksI have several friends who love to go to garage sales, flea markets and thrift shops.  I don’t go often (the house is full) but when I have the opportunity I like to check out the books.  Shocking, yes?

But I’m not looking for a favorite author.  I’m looking at the antiques.  This weekend my church held their annual craft fair, bake sale and used book sale.  I haven’t found anything too terribly old the last few years but this year?  This year I found two treasures.

My favorite?  Woman’s Medical Hand-Book by David Wark, M.D. New York.  Gay Brothers and Company, 1882.  According to the good Dr. Wark, women should be protected from cold and wet during menstruation because this is as hard on their wombs as conception.  This one is going to be a hoot.  I can just tell.

The second book is Zig Zag Journeys in the Great North-West by Hezekiah Butterworth.   Boston. Estes and Lauriat, 1890. It includes stories and legends and a great wealth of travel information.  It will be interesting to read what good ol’ Mr. Butterworth has to say about the Ojibwa. A quick web search revealed that these books were allegedly based on his travels and that something like 250,000 copies were sold.

Some day I’m going to delve into one of these books for some story fodder.  When I do, I suspect I may have to defend some of my “facts.”

Until then, I have fun flipping through them and collecting odd bits of this and that.


different types of fiction

Fiction Category InfographicWhen an agent or editor says that they want literary work vs commercial work, do you know what they mean?  I have to admit that I’ve had a much better idea what is commercial than what is literary.

This infographic from PS Literary offers a great explanation of Literary, Upmarket, and Commercial Fiction.  I just wish the examples included some juvenile work.  Just in case you’re wishing the same thing, I’ve done my best to match some recent juvenile titles to these definitions.

Literary Fiction is award-winning.  Language for the sake of language is also a key element.  This is art for art’s sake and the story may be open-ended. Don’t expect these books to solidly fit into one genre.  Examples:

  • The Book Thief by Markus Zuzac
  • The Fault in Their Stars by John Green
  • Looking for Alaska by John Green
  • The Giver by Lois Lowry

Upmarket fiction is character driven with universal themes. The writing is accessible and these are good books for book club discussion. Isn’t quite literary or commercial.  Examples:

  • Divergent by Veronica Roth
  • Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
  • Shiver by Maggie Stiefvater
  • A Curse Dark as Gold by Elizabeth C. Bunce

Commercial fiction is fast-paced and plot driven. The writing is accessible and aims to appeal to a large audience. The plot tends to be neatly tied up unless something need to be extended because this is a series book.

  • Percy Jackson by Rick Riordan
  • There’s a Hair in my Dirt by Gary Larson
  • Convergence by Stan Lee


You could probably make an argument about which books should be in which categories.  I know that I moved a few of them back and forth several times, but I hope this infographic helps you better understand the categories.

This oh so helpful infographic first appeared on Carly Waters, Literary Agent, but I saw it on Xina Marie Uhl’s Journey Taker.


Backstory: How to Avoid the Infodump

I’ve said it before but I’ll say it again, I love books and movies that manage to hide something, dropping clues until it all comes out.  It’s a great way to give the reader the backstory a morsel at a time and avoid an infodump.  I’ve written before about how Edward Bloor does it in Tangerine, but I saw a movie the other night that does an amazing job of telling us the main character’s back ground a bit at a time.


If you plan to see this movie, you’ve been warned.  When the movie starts, we meet John Wick as he staggers out of a totalled SUV and drops to the ground. He’s bloody and clutching his stomach.  Things look bad.  

Then we flash back to John Wick, happily married, romancing his wife and then she collapses in his arms.  We see him at her bedside when she dies in the hospital. And we see him at her funeral.

Somewhere in all of this, it may have been when he was getting ready for the funeral, we see a flash of his back, covered in an intricate tattoo.  That’s clue number one.

He’s cleaning up after the wake when a delivery arrives at the house.  His wife has had a puppy delivered so that he has something to love.

The next day he goes out to run errands, puppy in the passenger seat.  Filling up the car with gas, a man compliments his classic car and offers to buy it.  When Wick says no, the man says in Russian that everyone has a price.  Wick replies, also in Russian, that no everyone does not.  That’s clue number two.

That night, they break in and steal his car.  They beat him up and kill the puppy.

But when they take the car to the chop shop, the “manager” is clear. “That car belongs to John Wick.  Take it someplace else.”  That’s clue number three.

It turns out that one of the punks is son of a New York Russian mob boss.  When daddy finds out what jr has done, he beats the kid silly because his actions have called down John Wick, nicknamed Babayaga. “He’s the one we send after the Boogey Man.”  We are a third of the way through the movie before we find out who John Wick was and who he is about to be once again.  The director has strung us along with tiny clues, but we don’t mind because, though suble, they were there.

This won’t work with any old story but maybe it will work with something you have in the works.  How can you reveal the backstory one tantilizing clue at a time?  I have to say, John Wick has me rethinking one of my old manuscripts.  Maybe just maybe this would solve a few problems.


Revision Challenge

ReviMoNovember is Picture Book Idea Month.  I’m an idea person so this is great for me.  And I love first drafts.  Love. First. Drafts.

The reason for that is simple, I often can’t fully process an idea until I get something on paper.  As a result, I have a lot of early draft, first drafts, drafts that have been critiqued.  But then I go on to the next first draft.  Yep.  I have tons and tons of early drafts and not so many things ready to go out.

That’s the beauty of the ReviMo challenage.  For one week in January, Meg Miller challenges us to get off our fannies and revise some of those picture books.

This year’s challenge runs from January 10th through January 16th.  During this week, Miller challenges us to revise at least four manuscripts.

Been thinking aobut looking for an agent in 2016? What better way to get ready to go than to get some manuscripts submission ready.  Add ReviMo to your calendar and, in January, pop on over to Miller’s site to sign up.

Between now and then?  Develop and rough out some of your Picture Book Idea Month ideas, of course!



Crafting Life Based Fiction

fact based fiction 2A friend of mine is writing a middle grade novel based on something that happened when she was in school.  Another friend is writing a picture book based on a story she told her now-adult child each night.  I’ve drawn on my relationships with various people when I create relationships between my characters.

Many writers create life-based fiction and they do it for good reason.  Exciting things happen.  We know interesting people.  The emotions we feel are the emotions that we want to bring to our readers through our characters.

That said, it isn’t easy to translate life into fiction and there has to be some translation.  We don’t always know people’s motivates people and, face it, some motives are just not all that great.  People also act out of character.  You’ve seen it when a super sloppy kid meets the girl of his dreams and manages to show up at school one day looking picture perfect.

Reality is messy.  To work well, fiction has to be much less so.  Characters act in character.  Plot builds, step by logical step.  When your life-based writing doesn’t do one of these things, your reader notice.  They don’t care if that’s how it really happened.  They want a story that works.

Unfortunately, many of us hesitate to make the changes. Whine along with me — “That’s not how it really happened…”

If you’re writing memoir or other nonfiction, that matters.  You have to write the facts.

If you’re writing fiction, real life has to take second place to creating a solid story.  I’m not saying that if your reader says “change this right here” that you need to make that specific change.  But what I am saying is that you need to listen.  You need to realize that, as lived and as written, your story may not be working.  You need to figure out why and you need to figure out how to fix it.

In that way its just like writing any other fiction.


Surprise Your Reader

facts surpriseWhether you are writing fiction or nonfiction it is important to occasionally surprise your reader.  After all, you don’t want your writing to be predictable.  Surprise endings and surprises at picture book page turns are two ways to do this.  But the way that I’m most familiar with is to choose surprising facts for your nonfiction.

One way that I do this is to come up with surprising child-friendly comparisons.  How much space does something take up?  I calculate how many backpacks it would fill.  I’ve also used school buses and dinner plates to compare size.

Then there are those facts that are just surprising.  Take for example when you have a famous scientist who was hired because she had no background in science.  Yes, she later acquired the background but at the start?  No education, no experience.  And that’s exactly why she got the job.  Not that my editor was ready to believe it.  She left me a note in the manuscript — “Is this true?”  I’m always tempted to respond back “no, I just made it up to see how closely you were reading” but I don’t.  I just take a screen clipping of the source and paste it into a comment of my own.

When you write nonfiction and use surprising facts, you can find yourself defending those facts with your editor.  Why?  Because they’re surprising, people are inclined to question them.

So be ready.  Surprising facts hook and engage your reader but there will most likely be a lot of back-and-forth with your editor.  Yes, that’s her name.  Yes, that’s how this discovery was made.  No, women are still not allowed on that golf course.  Yes, he called her that even in this day and age. How could I make something like that up?