Top Posts in 2016

When you write a blog, your plan is to post only about things that will interest your readers.  You try to come up with content and titles that will pull people in through search engines.  You want content that people will tweet or pin.  But you have no way of knowing which posts will be your most popular.

My ten most popular posts in 2016 were:










I’m always a little surprised by the top two.  These have consistently been most popular every year for two or three years now.

The most popular post is on charting the tension in your story.  It was tweeted by someone several years ago and every now and then suffers a resurgence.  Charting the tension in your story really isn’t hard to do but taking this step can help you see where you’ve failed to notch things up the way you need to do to keep your reader reading.

Even more of a mystery is most popular post #2. I’m hardly an expert on poetry but one my of activities involves how to write a False Apology poem.  This is written as if you are a apologizing about something but you are being tongue-in-cheek or a bit sarcastic.  Check out my post for both my favorite false apology poem, written by  William Carlos Williams, and a pathetic attempt by yours truly.

The posts that I think are my best?  Nope, not even on the list.  Publishing is truly a mysterious business.



Historic Fiction: Balancing Fact and Story

knowledge-1052011_1920Recently, I came across a question that surprised me.  Someone had asked a blogger which is more important in historical fiction – the facts or the story.  The reality is that you need both.

Whether you are writing contemporary fiction, historical fiction, mysteries or fantasy, the story is at the center of it all.  Without the story you have no base of action for the characters, you need no setting and the themes have nowhere to play out.  You need a strong story with a beginning where the readers meet the characters, the setting and the story problem.  You need a middle where the character attempts to solve this story problem.  And you need an ending where the story comes to a climax and the character succeeds or fails.

Still there is no doubt about it.  In historical fiction, you need fact as well.  It is this act that creates the setting including the geographic place complete with scents and sounds as well as the clothing that the characters wear, the food they eat and the tools that they use to solve whatever problem has presented itself in the story.

As is so often the case in writing, the trick is in striking a balance.  Too weak a story becomes a problem because you are at risk of your plot and characters becoming vehicles for showing off all the lovely historical facts that you have gathered in conducting your research whether these facts include how to gather wild yeast or dry tobacco.

If, on the other hand, you have a strong story but haven’t done enough historic research or have scrimped on sharing these facts, you story can seem to float in time and space.  It needs the anchor that a strong story setting can provide.

Do your research.  Plot out your story.  Figure out which facts enhance your setting, illustrate your characters and bring the story to life.  It may take a try or two to get it right but it is worth the effort when your story pulls readers in.


Goals for 2017 and What the Bent Agents Want

Agent HuntOne of my goals for 2016 was the earn 50 rejections.  I failed miserably.  There are three reasons for this.

  1.  Many people simply do not respond NO.  If submission guidelines say something like “if you don’t hear from us in 10 weeks consider that NO,” I considered no response a NO.
  2. Others are just S-L-O-W and I am still waiting.
  3. Because many of my submissions are to publishers with whom I have a relationship, I got acceptances.  That really messed with my number of rejections.

To make my goal this year (100 rejections since I am starting this in January vs July), I am going to pitch to several agents a month so I was especially happy to see this post from the Bent Agency, telling what each agent wants right now.  Not surprisingly, some things really caught my attention including:

Gemma Cooper asked for “a MG or YA set during the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair? Ideally a mystery.”  I love World’s Fair history.  Love it.  I don’t have anything along these lines but this sure would be a great book.  And it looks like she and I may have similar taste.

Molly Ker Hawn is looking for “Fast-paced, highly imaginative YA fantasy like REBEL OF THE SANDS” which I happen to be reading and loving.  So I think I have something that would appeal to her but it is largely still in my head.  Yep, that stinks.

Not quite but close.  What I need to find is an agent who wants sarcastic irreverent looks at reality as told through both fiction and nonfiction.  Where oh where are you my agent?  Of course, I’m not going to hook up with this person until I get serious about by search and submissions.  So with that in mind, I better get back to work…


Naughty or Nice?

books-1605416_1920Well, which list were you on this year?  Santa’s Naughty List or Santa’s Nice List?  I must have done okay because I got an Amazon gift card.  Now I just have to decide how to spend it.

My husband and I are deep into the Harry Dresden books so that’s one option.

I’m also getting ready to reread Kathy Reich’s Temperence Brennan novels and I know I’m missing one or two of those.

I could go through my call slips from the library.  When I request books, if I like something a lot, I make a notation on the pull slip to remind myself to buy the book.  Of course, I also do this to remind myself to request the next book in a series or to rerequest a book I didn’t have time to read.  This means that I have a stack of pull slips but that doesn’t mean that any of them are the “go buy this” variety.

Honestly, spending a book store gift card is brutal business.  You’ll note, Amazon sells everything but I consider this what?  A book store gift card.  Spending a gift card is never an easy thing for me.  I come up with ideas and consider each one.  Getting one thing means not getting something else.  Then I have to think some more.  Finally I go a bit nuts and just make myself do it.

I’ve even perused the Amazon bestseller lists. This is seldom a smart choice for me.  Every now and again I find something that reminds me — hey, I wanted that book.  But I’m seldom a best seller kind of girl.

Suffice it to say that I have not made up my mind.  Suggestions?  Hints?  Gentle nudges?


Merry Christmas


Grandma Bradford's Christmas Angels.
Grandma Bradford’s Christmas Angels.

hope that all of you are having a wonderful Christmas Holiday!   Today is the day that we celebrate with my husband’s family.  What can I say — we like to stretch it out.  After all, you can only eat so much in just one day.

I’ll be back tomorrow (Tuesday, 12/27).  In the meantime, Merry Christmas!


Fiction: Writing scene by sequel by scene


Way back when I was a fairly new writer, I read something about scenes and sequels and the need for both in your writing.  As I remember it, scenes are where the action takes place.  Your character has a goal, attempts to achieve it and said goal is thwarted.  Sequels are the lull before the next attempt. This is where your character contemplates the failure and sets the next goal.

All scenes and no sequels make for tiring reading and a story that feels rushed.  But sequels slow the action down and if you slow it down too much, you might lose the reader.

It’s a way of structuring a story that always works well for me yet when I attempted to find information on this some months back via Google . . . nothing.  I could find the terms and next to nothing more.  So I was silly happy when I saw K.M. Weiland’s post on scene and sequel. Weiland recommends that we break down our scenes beyond scene and sequel to recognize the three essential parts of each.

Scenes are composed of goal, conflict, and disaster.  I think I had this part down, but the three parts of the sequel?  Not so much.

Sequels consist of reaction, dilemma, and decision.  Reaction is when the character reacts to being thwarted.  Some reactions are largely internal such as feelings of shock. Or it can be physical as when a ladder tips or the character begins to slide down the roof.

Next the character considers what this means.  Worry, angst, whoa I barely made it.  This doesn’t have to be extensive but it does have to take place so that the reader has access to the why and wherefore of . . .

The decision which turns into the goal for the next scene.

If this is a highly physical life or death situation, the sequel can be processed very quickly but you can’t do that too often or you’ll tire the reader out.  Thrown in a sequel in which characters argue over what happens next, the character has to access information or wait and watch while the dust settles.  Granted, you don’t want to do this too often either or the pace may seem slow.

Dark and light.  Scene and sequel.  description and action.  Writing great fiction is a balancing act and I’m looking forward to writing a bit more fiction in 2017.



Writing Middle Grade Nonficiton

video-games-1136042_1920esterday I met my most recent deadline, turning in a piece of middle grade nonfiction on professional gaming.  Yes, that’s people who make money playing video and computer games like Dota 2 and CS:GO.  

The funny/ironic/slightly disturbing thing about it is that it really has demonstrated the disconnect from one generation to another. My teen son pointed it out. When he tells his friends and teachers, people who “get” teens, what I’ve been working on, they smile and nod.  They make the appropriate comments.

When I tell my peers? The vast majority go completely blank.  Sometimes they ask for clarification.  Occasionally, and these are the really bad moments, someone will tell me that they’re glad they don’t write about the stupid things I do.  They couldn’t do it even for money.  Yep, that one was totally my favorite.

Not that I really understood professional gaming before I wrote the book.  I had no clue how much money some of these people make.  Or how many teams there are.

But it really makes me wonder – how do the publishers and editors decide that you are someone who could write about this topic?  Clearly many baby boomers and Gen-X could not do this.  They don’t know about gaming, they don’t want to know about gaming and they think it is a ridiculous waste of time.

Maybe they checked out my social media.  “Has she ever used ‘game’ as a verb?” Because I do game somewhat casually.  I’m pretty darn good at Call of Duty.  Ah, well.  I’m just glad I got the gig.  Finally I’ve written a book my nephew is interested in reading.


Step into 2017 with Storystorm

storystormNeedless to say, everyone is a little wound up about 2017.  I mean a little worse than the usual year-end angst.  I’d like to invite all you writers to step into the New Year with Storystorm.

Back in November you might have missed PiBoIdMo or Picture Book Idea Month sponsored by Tara Lazar.  Unfortunately, as I remember correctly, Tara has been having some health problems and needed to postpone this annual event.  She also took the opportunity to expand it to a greater variety of participants.

Obviously, Picture Book Idea Month was also about generating picture book story ideas.  Storystorm expands this to include any writing genre. I guess I should admit that as far as I’m concerned, an idea is an idea.  I may think it is a picture book idea but it turns into middle grade nonfiction.  So I’m pretty jazzed about this change.

The goal if for participants to end the month of January with 30 fresh, new story ideas.  What a great way to start the year!

Registration begins the day of Christmas, December 26th.  You can register through the first week of January.  You don’t have to register, but participants who do are eligible to win agent consultations, books, critiques, and more. The link above will take you to Tara’s blog for more information.

So if you’re looking forward to an excellent writing year in 2017, why not start it with Storystorm?



Late last week I was on Twitter reading #MSWL posts and spotted this one by Alyssa Jennette, an agent with Stone Song Literary.  I have to admit it intrigued me.

Not that I am a huge Room with a View fan, but it was enough to get me wondering what children’s and teen stories are in the public domain, thus ripe for adaptation. Of course, my mind first went to some of the older books that I read — Gene Stratton-Porter’s novels, Uncle babbsey-twinsWiggly,  and Black Beauty.  I’m not certain when the Bobbsey Twins came out but I know my Dad and his siblings had the books.  I’ll ferret each of these out later.

I did a search on “children’s books in the public domain and this is some of what I found.  I’m not 100% certain that I trust all of the lists that I found but here are two that are very trustworthy:

50 Public Domain Children’s Books Courtesy of the Library of Congress.  I don’t know this blog, Public Domain Treasure Hunter, but it linked through to a list at the LOC.  This list includes Aesops Fables, Noah Webster’s American Spelling Book, and The Child’s Garden of Verses which are all pretty well known.  Less well known are The Children’s Object Book, several primers, and A Curious Heiroglyphic Bible. 

Children’s Literature (Bookshelf) at Project Gutenberg. This is another one that is trustworthy because Project Gutenberg digitizes public domain materials to make them easily accessible.  I was tickled to see J.M. Barrie, Frank L. Baum, Washington Irving, Rudyard Kipling, Harriet Beecher Stowe and many more familiar names.  Each author links to a list of individual titles below.

I suspect that you might have to strike a balance.  If a piece is too well known, it may have already been adapted several times.  If a piece is too obscure, interest in it will be considerably less.  I googled “adaptations of the Wizard of Oz” and found an extensive list on Wikipedia.  No Wikipedia isn’t the be-all-and-end-all in research but it is definitely someplace you can go to begin your search.

Me? I’m a little jazzed becaused Project Gutenberg has 14 Bobbsey Twins novels.  Not I sure thing but it I’m thinking…



Goals for 2017

happy-new-years-985741_1920Recently one of my WOW friends wrote a post about resolutions.  One of the things that Jodi wrote about what the reality that the holidays often derail even the best writing intentions.  She thinks that that is the reality behind come up with resolutions or goals for New Years.  It isn’t so much that it starts a new year but the fact that December has been so splendidly unproductive.

That’s definitely something to think about.  But I’m also finding myself thinking about how well my goals for last year went.  I don’t want to set new goals until I judge how this year’s goals worked out.

As I recall, I set three goals.

  1.  Read 100 or more books in 2016.  The GoodReads reading challenge let’s you set a goal of reading X books/year.  I suspected that I could read about 150 but said 100 because that seemed less “braggy.”  Really, I just wanted to find out how many books I read in a year. I quit keeping track in September at 112 books.  I accidentally marked an analysis of the book vs the book itself and couldn’t deselect it.  This took reading from fun to aggravating so it had to go.
  2. Start reading my way around the world.  Reading a book from every country in the world in one year seemed overly ambitious so I was going to try to do it in 5 or so years.  Was.  That should give you a clue.  I didn’t want to do all of the easy countries this first year — US, Canada, Great Britain, etc.  But I was shocked to discover that anything in the middle east is more than a bit tricky.  Part of the issue is that with political turmoil (the polite term for war), people move around.  So does X author count as Iranian, Afghani or French?  Again, things quickly became un-fun.  I love to read books from and about other countries so I know I’ll keep doing it.  I’m just not going to be systematic about it.
  3. Earn 50 rejections.  I read a blog post about an author whose goal was to receive 100 rejections in a single year.  I saw this about half way through the year so set my goal at 50.  Looking at my tally, I have 2.  Yup.  Two.  Annoyingly enough, several people I have yet to hear back from and things are still marked (Submittable) as “under consideration.”  And I’ve gotten several rewrite requests.  And then there are two or three things that I won’t hear about until January.  That said, I think this one is a solid goal.

My way of thinking right now is to focus on 100 rejections.  I’m going to do this by working much harder to find an agent.  I think an agent will help me get better paying gigs and I have a kid starting college next fall.  I have been remarkably ho-hum about doing the work needed to submit to an agent.  I need to start pulling out the print outs of the ones that intrigue me and sending a manuscript out to four or five at a time. I have two pieces ready to go.  Even if I do all of the leg work necessary to submit wisely, this is a pretty solid way to tally some rejections.  Almost no one gets accepted by agent #3 or 4.

And submitting to 100+ agents and publishers will definitely help my bottom line.

So what are your goals for 2017?