Memorial Day

Eagle close up
Photo by my son, Jared.

I hope that you plan to take some time off today since it is, at least in the US, Memorial Day.  I’ve been keeping up a ferocious work schedule so I’ll be spending some time with my family today.  That said, I had to tell an editor “no, I can’t have it ready that soon” to get this time off.

When an editor comes to you with a request, you don’t have to say YES to it as is.  I have writer friends who have asked for more pay.  I’ve refused to hand over certain rights. I’ve also asked for deadline extensions.  The funny thing?  When I ask for a bit more time, the editor generally gives me more than I requested.  Fine.  I’ll take it!

So, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to spend another day off with my family.



Social Media: The Down Side

wwwSocial  Media for Writers.

How to Use Social Media.

Social Media, the Author’s Way.

Everywhere I turn, there seems to be someone telling me how important social media is for me as a writer.  They’re willing to tell me how and why and just how little time it will take.  And I have to admit that I’d bought into it.  I blog — obviously.  I’m on Facebook.  And I recently joined Twitter.

Maybe it’s because I added one thing and then another, but I never realized just how time-consuming it could be.  But last weekend we were out of town.  Yes, where we were staying had wi-fi.  I should have been able to get on, but our particular room was one of a block that gets iffy reception, especially when the place is booked solid and every room has a device or two linked in.

I knew I was going to have some time to myself and I had looked ahead at my deadlines so I had my laptop with me.  I had already drafted the next three chapters of the NASA book but this was a really rough draft created before the present outline with our editor and publisher.  Needless to say, I lot had changed.  Instead of trying to find a place I could get on and check my e-mail or Facebook, I popped open my laptop and got to work.  Ninety minutes later, I had a draft of Chapter 5.  Sure, there were a couple of blanks that I could only fill in once I could Google but I had a solid draft.  The next morning, I had an hour to myself and before everyone got back I had drafted Chapter 6. Again, there were blanks but still.

Two chapters drafted in a couple of hours.  Yes, I had bit and pieces already written, but I think a lot of what I accomplished was thanks to the fact that I could check e-mail.  I could pop over to Facebook.  No one could IM me.  That’s a big one for me.  If it pings, I have to look to see if it is something I need to read immediately.

I’m going to try an experiment this week.  School  is out, people are home, swim season has started.  My writing time is at a premium.  I’m going to write for several hours this week after closing down my internet connection.  I have a feeling it will be time well spent.


How Long Will an Editor Wait for Your Manuscript?

calendar-660670_1920I have heard more than one agent or editor tell a group of writers to take their time writing or rewriting a manuscript.  Don’t rush it.  Instead, take the time to get it right.

Recently, I read an article about an author who took this to an extreme.  Scientific American had contacted Dr. Ian Shine and asked him to write an article on his work on the island of St. Helena.  Shine is an MD and worked up a medical and genetic study of this isolated community.  One of the things that he studied was heart health and cardiac symptoms.

How long did it take Shine to get his work to the ediors?  Here’s a hint.  His stint on the island ran from 1960 to 1962.  It took him 48 years to contact the magazine with the finished article.  Not surprisingly, the editor he had had a contract with was long gone.  But the current editor asked to see the article.

In the end, he decided not to publish it.  His decision was made not on the fact that it took to long to turn it in or even that some of the information might now be dated.  The problem was that Shine didn’t turn in an article so much as a “short book.”

The lesson?  Take your time, get it right, but turn in what the editor publishes.  Word counts do matter even after 48 years.


Writing Books that Break the Rules

Your child character must solve his own problem.

Write picture books or listen to talks on picture books and you’re going to hear this advice. And, why not?  It’s really good advice.  No one wants to follow an inactive child character through the pages of a picture book.

But I just read a book that breaks that rule.   PLOT SPOILER

Did you see that?  I’m going to spoil the plot so don’t read on if that’s a problem for you.  

Bill Cotter’s Beard in a Box breaks this rule.  The story problem is that the narrator wants to be cool like his Dad.  He decides that it is Dad’s beard that makes him so cool so he sets out to grow his own.  He makes several unsuccessful attempts (poor, half-naked kitty) and even buys a beard growing kit.  Just as he figures out the kit is a scam in walks Dad sans beard.  Dad comforts junior and explains that awesomeness doesn’t have anything to do with the beard.  It’s all about you as a person.

Yep.  Dad explains it all.

No big epiphany for junior.  No Aha! moment.

So how did this picture book sell when the child narrator doesn’t solve the problem?  I think there are four things that helped this manuscript sell.

The narrator knew the answer all along.  When he’s thinking about how awesome his Dad is, he isn’t thinking about Dad trimming his beard, combing his beard or anything else along those lines.  He’s thinking about Dad playing basketball, playing his guitar and going biking.  It’s all about what Dad does not Dad and facial hair.

This book is really funny.  The humor in this book is going to appeal to both the child reader and the adult reader.  How can it not?  He shaves the cat.  All of his attempts to create a beard are funny as are his imaginings of “life with beard.”  because, you know, the beard will definitely make you a pirate.

The ending is satisfying. This book might seem quiet in that the ending is sweet and touching and look at Dad and Jr. playing basketball, biking, making music and fishing.  Isn’t that sweet?  But is it also satisfying.  It isn’t a big slam-bang type of satisfying ending but it is a warm and heart-felt and that’s what makes the book…

Marketable.  Think Father’s Day Book.  This might not be the book that Dad would buy, it is definitely the type of book that Mom would buy for the kids to give Dad on Father’s Day.

The lesson?  The book you write can break the rules as long as it still works well and there is a market for sales.  And it doesn’t hurt if it is really fun too.



Boy Books vs Girl Books

children-1384386_1920.jpgTuesday morning I read a post on girl books saving the world.  The premise was that if boys would just read girl books they would be different (BETTER!) and the world would be saved.

For the sake of discussion, let’s assume that there are boy books and girl books.  I have a huge problem with this assumption based largely on what I do and do not read.  I do read fantasy, science fiction, mysteries, action and nonfiction (history, science, anthropology, nature).  I do not read romance or self help.  I’ll read the occassional graphic novel but I’ve given up picking them out myself.  My son picks them out for me.  He’s a boy and, simply put, I’m not.  But our reading overlaps.  So am I reading boy books?  Or is he reading girl books?

Or maybe, just maybe, we’re both reading . . . books.

As an author it is important to identify the audience for your book. It is the only way you will chose the right vocabulary and explain things in a way  that your audience will grasp.  And some of my books will definitely have more girl than boy readers.  With titles like Women in Sports and Women in Science, librarians and teachers are going to hand the books to girls.  And girls should read them, but so should boys.

Personally, I don’t think it is the attitude of the boys that we need to question.  What we should question is why we, the adults who put the books out there, are still setting up this boy vs girl dichotomy and then being shocked that it’s still there.




Writer vs World

eyes-1221663_1280Occasionally, my family feels the need to point out that I, as a writer, see the world differently than a “normal” person sees it.

Most recently, my son and his friend were working up a real-world zombie game, Darker Days.  The premise is that you are at your buddy’s house gaming when the Zombie Apocalypse occurs.  You have to survive with only what you have in your location and with the skills you currently possess.  As the nerd herd crowded into my kitchen for lunch, one of them poked my son in the side.  “Why’s your mom watching us all so closely?”  “She’s just figuring out whose going to be the first to go.”

Sigh.  I’d be annoyed except for the fact that he was right.  The reality is that you’re going to need a certain skill set to survive.  If you don’t have great survival skills, you better have rock solid charisma or something else that people want to keep around.

Butt heads with someone else and I may very well explain it to you in writing terms.  “I know he made you mad, but almost no one is a villain in his own head. Figure out the story where he’s the hero and you’ll be able to work this out.” When I don’t think someone is telling me the whole story, I look for subtext and back story.

And then there are all the times that I start scribbling notes because someone has said something inspirational.  My son?  He is a fountain of teen-talk.  My current favorite?  Voluntold.  “He was voluntold to help us out.”

Yes, writers have to be observant, taking in details that many people would simply walk right past.  But, in time, many of us come to see the world a bit differently than “normal” people.



Creating a Teacher’s Guide

studentDoes your book have a teacher’s guide?  If the publisher hasn’t created one this is something that you can pay a publicist to do or, with the right skills, you can do it yourself.  Here are a few of the things that you might include:

First things first, consider which classes your book might supplement.  If your book includes similes or metaphors, it could be used to supplement a lesson on writing or language.  Do you have characters, a plot and setting?  Then your book could enhance a lesson on the parts of fiction.  Be creative!

Next, look at your book’s topic.  A book about animals might include information on each animal depicted — where it lives, what it eats, etc.  If you’ve written a poetry collection, describe the various types of poems that you’ve included.  Is it a haiku or a tanka?  A concrete poem or an ode?  Expand on the material in your book.

Did you have to do a lot of research for your book?  Compile a list of resources that young readers might want to read.

What could young readers inspired by your book create?  Encourage them with fun writing projects, crafts, experiments and games. Remember to focus on projects that can by completed in a group vs projects that will require a lot of focused adult attention.  Don’t expect teachers to write-up their own handouts or worksheets based on your book.  Have these kinds of materials ready to print or copy.

Describe what inspired your book and something about your writing process.  You could also include photos of your work area or where you went to research your book.

A classroom guide is another chance for you to be creative.  If you aren’t sure what to include, pick up some children’s magazines and look at the materials that your readers write or draw and send in on their own.  This will give you some idea what inspired and interests them.  Think of this as another chance to enhance their reading experience and encourage them to learn, grow and express themselves.


Here’s My Superpower — What’s Yours?

Batman, Superman, Lego, Superhero, Hero, Fast, StrongLucky for me that I read Debbie Ridpath Ohi’s Her post alerted me to a book-based contest, “Draw the Line: What’s Your Superpower?

The contest is based on Laurent Linn’s novel, Draw The Line.  In the book, the main character creates a superhero version of himself, Graphite. Graphite uses art to fight brutality and Adrian comes to realize that that is also his superpower.  The contest encourages readers to consider their own abilities and to submit a drawing of themselves as a superhero.  Linn doesn’t want people to only think about what they wish they could do.  He wants them to think about what they already do ranging from school to sports and also being a good friend.  Click on the link above to Debbie’s post to find out more.  For whatever crazy reason (I so love it when computers refuse to help), the video refuses to link although I just watched it.  Twice.

Silly computer issues aside, what is your superpower?  As presented on her blog, Debbie’s is the ability to create food doodles.

I’ve been waffling about what mine might be.  In the “food doodle” school of thought, it is my ability to spot unappreciated ironies.  “Why does that strange guy keep staring at you?  I don’t know.  Maybe he’s wondering why that judgy looking women keeps staring at him?” This ability is never, ever appreciated.  Never.

But on a more serious note — I think my superpower is my ability to slip into the reality that I’m writing about even if it isn’t MY reality.  I see the sense.  I identify the logic.  It’s how I can write about social issues and present both sides of an argument. I suspect it has something to do with empathy.  If I didn’t have this ability, I wouldn’t have dared to take on Black Lives Matter.  

What about the rest of you?  What’s your superpower?



5 Things Productive Writers Do

Vintage, Typewriter, Write, New York, Letters“I’m so impressed by your energy!”  Irony, oh sweet irony.  On the day that I got this message from another writer, I was virtually draped across my desk.  Spring allergy abundance guaranteed blurry vision and a stopped up nose.  Yet here I was writing.  Sort of.  I was at my desk but I had no idea what she meant by energy.  I certainly didn’t feel energetic.  Then I read on – oh, she meant productive.

I’m always amazed when other writers comment on about how productive I am.  I don’t feel productive.  I feel like a working writer.  It’s how I keep the lights on. It’s my job and that’s probably why I am productive.  To be productive you have to . . .

Treat writing like your job. It can’t be something that you do only if you have free time.  You have to make time.  Hey!  Don’t give me sass.  I know there are only so many hours in the day, but if you want to be a writer you have to write. Some days you might write for only fifteen or twenty minutes.  Others you might have an hour or more.  The point is that you write . . .

Even when you don’t feel like it.  There are days that I’d rather sit on the sofa and watch Firefly and knit.  Or listen to an audio book and knit. My Muse hasn’t shown up for work and I don’t feel like it either.  But to be productive, I have face the fact that I don’t have a muse.  What I have is dedication although it helps to know . . .

When is the best time of day to write.  Ideally, I’m not a morning or an evening writer.  I am an afternoon writer.  That doesn’t mean that I won’t write in the morning or evening, but I try to write in the afternoon.  It’s when I’m my most prolific.  That’s really important when I’ve . . .

Said “yes” to a new challenge.  Productive writers take on new tasks.  Sometimes that means trying a new type of writing like the middle grade novel I’m drafting.  I don’t normally write fiction.  Or science fiction.  So far I’ve crafted 50 pages.  But to keep this pace up I have to . . .

Refuel.  For different writers this means different things.  My husband and I are putting in a new garden.  I’m also finishing up a knitting project for my cousin.  While I knit, I listen to audio books.  Twice a week, I go to yoga. All of these things help fuel my creativity.

It might seem impossible to be a working writer.  Sometimes it seems impossible even to those of us who do it.  But when that happens, we do what needs to be done.  Some days that means refueling.  Some days that means sucking it up, sitting down and writing.  Because, really, its the time spent writing that makes us writers.


SCBWI Summer Reading List

On a wet rainy day is Missouri (I’m writing this on Tuesday), I am almost literally walking on sunshine.  Black Lives Matter by Sue Bradford Edwards and Duchess Harris is on page 48 of the SCBWI Summer Reading List.  Woo-hoo!

A resource for libraries, teachers and bookstores, this is a listing of books published by SCBWI authors.  “The Reading List Program includes books of all genres from our PAL authors and illustrators, both front list and backlist titles. This is an opportunity to find that book that a kid or teen will enjoy and can  engage with the fun and adventure of reading. Authors and illustrators from close to your hometown to those around the world are featured on the List. The Lists will be published bi-annually this year in the Summer and Winter.”

Interested parties can download the list by region (look below the yellow cover for the list) or in its entirity by clicking on the title, “Download the Summer Reading List.”

The lists are organized by region, Missouri is part of the Mid-South, and within that region by grade level.  Take a look and find some great books to read this summer.