One Writer’s Journey

October 17, 2016

Novel Writing: What to Know Before You Start

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 3:26 am
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prewritingWhen I came across this checklist, it was billed as NaNoWriMo prep.  “Do these things and you’ll be ready to rock.”  Admittedly, that’s why I’m doing them right now but if they are good prep for NaNoWriMo then they are good prep to write a novel.  Period.  So what is on this amazing checklist? I’m going to just touch on each of these points and then go into detail in other posts.

  1. Write your premise sentence.  The premise is a summary of what your novel is about.  It goes beyond the bare bones concept to include a bit about the protagonist, their general situation and what they are working on before they get sucked into whatever your story is about. As if all of that wasn’t enough, you have to include your protagonist, what disaster gets the plot moving and the conflict between these two characters.  I’ve already blogged about the premise here.
  2. Work with your characters.  I’ve already started this in my scrapbook.  I know how they look and how they dress. I know some of what they like.  I have some backstory.  I did not do detailed interviews.  I should address that and I’ll write another post on characters when I do.  I also need to consider the character arc for each one.
  3. Work with your plot.  You are going to have to make sure you’ve addressed any plot holes, added a few twists so that your story isn’t business and usual and identified all of your plot points from the inciting incident to the climax.
  4. Details your plot.  It isn’t enough to know vaguely what is going on.  Before you start writing, you will need an outline composed of all of the scenes that get your from one plot point to another.  Yep.  Scenes.  You may need 3 scenes to address one plot point.
  5. Explore your settings. When we plow through a novel manuscript, it is easy to slight the setting and leave your characters wondering around some place that is a bit gray and amorphous.  Avoid this by exploring your setting ahead of time  Some writers create setting folders.  I’m doing this in my scrapbook, colleting images for each setting.

It sure looks like a lot of work, doesn’t it?  But I’m fairly confident that once it is done, I will be ready to write that novel.




October 14, 2016

New Publishing Opportunities: St. Martin’s Press Launches a Crossover Imprint

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:02 am
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wednesday-booksMacmillan’s St Martin’s Press (SMP) is launching a new imprint — Wednesday Books. Publisher Jennifer Enderlin will publish YA and adult titles that focus on coming-of-age themes but are also “dynamic and exciting.”

The imprint is looking for both fiction and nonfiction that is described as “bold, diverse, and commercial.” Readers who are attracted to their books will be those looking for YA and beyond.

The first titles in this new imprint are scheduled for Fall 2017.  Ultimately, the imprint will publish 10–20 books/year.  This imprint will be the home, from here on out, of all SMP YA titles.

Editorial Director Sara Goodman, who has worked with both Rainbow Rowell and Courtney Summers, will edit and acquire adult and YA titles for the imprint.

I couldn’t find any more than this but will keep my eyes open.


October 13, 2016

Editing Your Manuscript: Reading Level

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 12:43 am
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Why oh why can’t I get the reading level down?

Remember that optimistic estimate I had that it would take me three hours to finish the manuscript?  It was a lot closer to five. The biggest problem that I faced was bringing things to the correct reading level.

When I write for Red Line, I use the ATOS grade level calculator.  My goal for this book was a reading level of 7.0 to 8.5.  I don’t test the entire manuscript, preferring to test each chapter.  I do it this way because my Red Line editors are really good at spotting reading level problems.  If one chapter is off, they will catch it.  I’d much rather spot the problem without any help.

Yesterday I had finished the hard copy edits and just needed to make the changes and then test each chapter.  The first one was 8.8.  The second one was 9.0.  Thankfully the third one was 8.5.

How was I so off in one chapter.  In part because it had a section on Colin Kaepernick.  It wouldn’t be so bad if his last name was Colin because I could use that throughout most of the section.  But oh, no.  Kaepernick.  Kaepernick does frightening things to your reading level.  Not as frightening as Maya place names but bad enough.

I’ve seen some people recommend substituting Bob for such a name.  Bob is a nice low reading level.  The problem is that Kaepernick is going to be in the book.  It has to work with Keapernick in the manuscript.

Fortunately, there are several  ways to bring down the reading level.

First things first, look at your sentence structure.  No semicolons.  None.  Break down compound sentences.  Phrases are okay but don’t join two perfectly legitimate sentences with AND or BUT.  You don’t want the entire manuscript to be composed of simple sentences but if you can get rid of a complex sentence per page, that will drop the reading level by .2 or .3.

Second, don’t forget to look for passive construction.  That tends to make your sentences wordier.  “The boy hit the ball” vs “The ball was hit by the boy.”

Third, simplify some of the vocabulary.  Look for multisyllable words that can be replaced by shorter words.  Want replaces prefer.  Use takes the place of operate.

Of course, if your reading level is too low, you do the opposite, except for the semicolon (publisher’s preference).

And whenever you’ve been tinkering with the reading level, reread the section out loud.  You want to be certain it is still a smooth read.



October 12, 2016

Deadlines: How Close Do You Cut It?

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 3:18 am
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I business-1067978_1920have a book due today.  In an ideal world, I’d have spent yesterday working through the last of my hard copy edits.  Of course, in an ideal world jr. wouldn’t have come home from school spiking a fever.

Granted, he’s a teenager so it isn’t like I need to be at his beck and call. But, you know how it is.  If someone else is here, you just don’t get as much done.  First he has to tell me his head hurts.  He may be 17 but he’s never willing to get over-the-counter meds out without saying something to me first.  Then his stomach was bugging him and that’s when we discovered the fever.

For better or worse, I tend to meet my deadlines without a whole lot of wiggle room.  Of course, that’s because things like this seem to happen on a regular basis.  When I was working on the Pearl Harbor book, I did hard copy edits on a clip board leaning against a wall in the emergency room while my dad slept.  They finally diagnosed him with . . . I think it was pneumonia that time . . . and gave him a bed.  But I edited at least two chapters with beeping and nurses bustling to and fro.

I try to have things ready to turn in the day before things are due, but that seldom seems to work out. In part, I think it is because I become much more productive and efficient as the deadline nears.  What can I say?  Monday, I did hard copy edits on 2 chapters and got everything changed on the computer.  Yesterday, I did hard copy edits on the other 6 chapters and got 2 chapters worth changed on the computer.  That means that today I have to type up the changes for four more chapters.  I also have to edit and update the back matter and clean up the formating on the bibliography.  It will probably take me about 3 hours.

This may not be the best method but it works for me.  I think that I’ve missed one deadline in something like 20 years.  Fingers crossed that as you read this, I’m attaching the file to an e-mail and sending it in!



October 11, 2016

Prepping Your Premise

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:21 am
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watch-1267417_1920As I work on my NaNoWriMo prewriting tasks, I find myself doing a bit of this and a bit of that on my book.  No, I’m not writing. I’m figuring things out.  One of the things that I need to figure out is my premise.  Not sure what a premise is?  The concept is the most basic take on the story.  My concept is  a girl waits for her brother to come home from the war.  A premise begins to fill in the details.  You can read up on that in an excellent post by K.M. Weiland on the difference between a premise and a concept.

Any-who, for my premise, I need to know the following:

Protagonist:  12 year-old Clem

Situation: Clem is working hard, running errands and acting as a local messenger.

Objective:  She needs to maintain things, specifically her older brother’s a-tee (think speeder) until he comes home from the war.

Opponent:  Evil step-father (ESF).  Yes, this could be cliché but he has a compelling back story.

Disaster: ESF tries to take the a-tee to sell it.  He’s convinced the brother is not coming home.  Maybe dead.

Conflict: She has to find a way to keep him from selling it and hold on.

Let’s see how all of this folds together into a premise:  Clem is running errands and messages to earn the money she needs to maintain her brother’s a-tee. She’s the youngest pilot in the area but she takes care of the vehicle, determined to have it looking good-as-new when her brother comes home from the war.  Then her step-father tries to sell it without saying anything to her.  He’s convinced her brother isn’t coming home but Clem doesn’t believe him.  She’s determined that if she keeps the a-tee safe, her brother will come home.

Premise?  Check.  I’m going to be working on setting and material culture but I also have to . . . hesitant pause . . . make an outline.



October 10, 2016

Characters: Getting to know them inside and out

fiddleAs part of the pre-writing that I need to get done for NaNoWriMo, I spent some time last week scrapbooking my characters.  This is definitely an exercise that I’d recommend if you’ve never done it before.

Before I did this exercise, I’d given some thought to my characters.  For my main character and three main secondary characters, I knew what they liked and what they valued but I hadn’t nailed down their appearances.  Now I have coloring, general height and  build for each of them.  I even have a pretty good idea what one character’s tatoo looks like.  The funny thing?  Before I did this, I didn’t know he had a tatoo.

I knew some of the baggage that he brought with him into the story.  It’s the baggage that makes him such a mystery, but I didn’t know about the ink.  As I was doing a variety of searches in Google Image, up popped a full back tattoo of a fallen angel.  Oh.  Wow.  Absolute perfection.

This isn’t the only character that I learned about.  My main character has a surprising hobby.  Yes, it is something a lot of girls do but it isn’t something you usually associate with a tom boy.

The surprise that’s going to make the most work for me came in the form of a pair of fiddles.  Two of my characters saw fit to let me in on the fact that they both play the fiddle.  That’s awesome for the story but what I know about fiddles would fit in the case alongside the bow and the fiddle itself.

But the character that I learned the most about is my villain.  All this time, I didn’t realize that I had never named him.  I just called him Stepfather.  Yes, it may be a bit cliché that the stepfather is the villain and because of that I’d let this character slide.  But now that he has a name and a face and even a motivation . . . I can’t say that I like him any better than I did before but now I know why he does the jerky things that he does.

This was definitely a worthwhile exercise.  This week I’ll be scrapbooking my settings.  I’m sure I’ll learn a few things in the process.


October 7, 2016

Narrator vs POV Character

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:16 am
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Why you have to know who is telling your story.

Why you have to know who is telling your story.

Last night, we had a really interesting conversation at critique group on your narrator vs your point-of-view character.  One of our writers is working on a middle grade novel.  Her point of view character is gifted and mature.  Every once in a while, she sounds a big “old” or at least older than her 12 years.

Then another writer asked the question that got the discussion going. “How old is your narrator?”

The woman writing the story looked blank and I’m pretty sure that I did too.  Well, she’s 12 . . . right?

The answer to that is . . . maybe.  The story is first person and the narrator is the 12 year-old point-of-view character.   But the story isn’t present tense so she isn’t telling the story as it happens.  So when is she telling it?

You may be wondering why it matters.  It is all a matter of voice and perspective.

If your character is looking back on the situation as she starts high school, she will have a very different perspective than if she is looking back from high school graduation or the day her own daughter starts middle school.  Not only will she be a different age, she will have a very different set of life experiences.

A high school aged narrator may give your 12 year-old POV character a voice that sounds slightly older than 12.  A middle aged narrator may give her an older voice or a much younger voice, depending on how she sees her 12 year-old self.  Does she see her as mature for her age?  Or just a kid?

Although I’m still processing all of this myself, I do have a much better understanding of the fact that you have to know who is telling your story.  And when.  But I have to admit — it sure is making nonfiction look awfully appealing.



October 6, 2016

My Misfit Manuscript

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 3:56 am
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work-1357001_1920I had a critique group meeting this afternoon.  I love my group and really wanted the chance to get some feedback.  But I’ve been working on the Race and Racism book, due Wednesday.  So that I didn’t have to miss out on their feedback, I pulled out an old manuscript that I jokingly refer to as my misfit toy.

When I wrote it, my publisher was planning to start a series of early readers.  “Can you write a few?”  They printed up scads of examples and sent me an entire box full of material to read.  Yes, you read that correctly.  A box full.  I read.  I thought.  I read some more and then I drafted three manuscripts for them.

They cancelled the program.

When a publisher put out a call for easy reading picture books that could be adapted into an app, I went through these old manuscripts.  I really liked one of them.  I rewrote it with this publisher’s specs in mind.  They loved it and we discussed the app.  Our ideas for this book meshed perfectly.

I waited for the contract.

And I wanted for the contract.

They explained having to delay things for a while and I waited some more.

Then they announced that they had produced the last of their apps and books.

Is this manuscript worth reworking again?  Or should I just let it slide?  At this point in our relationship, I have no perspective.  Is it a misfit or just unlucky?  So I ran it by my group.

They declared it not a misfit.  Then Rick suggested that I add another attempt before the solution is found.  And Rita recommended more onomatopoeia.  I can clearly see how this will improve the piece.  It looks like once I rework it that it will once again venture into the world of publishing.

Hopefully the third time really is the charm.


October 5, 2016

Scrapbooking My Characters

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 3:22 am
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charcoal-drawing-1558887_1920Have you ever scrapbooked a novel?  I read an article about this in the SCBWI Bulletin and am giving it a shot.  I’m a pretty visual person so this may work well for me.  We shall see.

First things first, I’m scrapbooking my characters.  I designated one page per character but I’m not sure that’s going to be enough.  I’m working in Adobe Illustrator and will then print out my pages so I’m not too worried about running out of pages.  I’ll just start another Illustrator file or add more paper to the binder.

For whatever silly reason, I started with two of the secondary characters.  For Michael, the main character’s older brother, I have a head shot and a tattoo that he picked up while in the military.  I have his primary vehicle as well as a paint swatch.  I still need to find clothing samples.

For Jake, the love interest, I also have a head shot.  The hair color is wrong but maybe I can fix that with colored pencils once I print it out.  Yeah, yeah, someone super techy could do it electronically.  I’d rather just get out a pencil.  I do have two clothing samples for him and several tools of the trade, his vehicle and corresponding paint swatch.

I’m trying to decide what else I need to include.  I started to say not hobbies, this isn’t a really hobby oriented culture.  You know how it is — the working poor are busy working.  But they do have talents and I need to figure out where each of these young men  excels.

After I finish with these two, I have four more characters to go.  Then I’ll work up settings (house, town, store, ruins, mining area) and material culture.  Material culture will definitely take some research so that I know technologically what they do. Then I’ll figure out what tools they use to do it.

Oh, right.  I also need to finish the rewrite of the book that’s due Wednesday.  But, honestly, I’d rather be looking at pictures.



October 4, 2016

Censorship and the School Library

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:47 am
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slj_selfcensorship_infographic_2016Do you ever worry that what you write will keep your books out of school libraries?  I have to admit that the thought has crossed my mind.  I’m not so worried about Hidden Human Computers but I was worried when I wrote Black Lives Matter.  After all, I’ve seen the racist memes changing the popular slogan to All Lives Matter.  Forunately, this push back doesn’t seem to have effected the sales of the book. After I read School Library Journal’s “Controversial Books Survey” from Spring 2016, I had a better understanding concerning why this hadn’t been an issue.

The report is about “Self-Censorship” in school libraries.  Self-censorship, as used in this report, means that a librarian decided not to buy a book, thus censoring content available to students.  Why did they pass on books?

From 75% (high school) to 93% (elementary) said it was because of “not-age appropriate content.”  This content was sexual in nature from 57% (high school) to 79% (elementary) of the time.  Vulgar language was given as the reason from 38% (high school) to 69% (elementary) of the time. I’m guess since these add up to over 100% that the two categories frequently overlapped.  To my surprise, racial content was given as a reason from 8% (high school) to 14% (elementary) of the time.

The librarian who answered the survey said that they are having to make these decisions more and more. Some said that this was because more books with potentially controversial content are being published.  Others said that the decision is also fueled by fear that school libraries may not be covered under freedom of speech laws.  Because so many people are offended by so much, some librarians are imagining having to defend a book before they even purchase it.

I don’t know that this is ultimately going to impact what I write.  My nonfiction is may push some people’s button racially but that doesn’t seem to be a big problem with school librarians.  When I write fiction, it is pretty tame at least in terms of controversial content.  Still, this is food for thought.  Even you want to read the survey results (less than 20 pages), you can find it here.





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