One Writer’s Journey

October 22, 2018

Copyright: Should You or Shouldn’t You?

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 6:48 am
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copyright-3197524_1920Every now and again someone asks me if they should copyright a story before sending it to an agent or a publisher.  Some even suggest taking the time to get a piece copyrighted before taking it to critique group.

“You mean that you don’t trust me not to steal your work?”

“It could happen.”

“And maybe, just maybe, you’ll get smashed by a meteor.”    Oddly enough, I’m more popular with tween boys than I am with many of my peers.

You may think that filing for a copyright under these circumstances shows that you value your work.  It is worth serious money, and you want people to see this from the start.  Have you ever heard the expression “just because you think something doesn’t make it a fact.”

What filing for a copyright in these situations says is “I don’t trust you.”  Do you really want to work with someone you don’t trust?  Of course now.  So step one really isn’t getting copyright.  Step one is finding someone you trust.  If you’ve heard questionable things about someone, don’t send them your work.  Period.

Just don’t do it.

What filing for copyright really shows is that you don’t know industry conventions.  It shows that you may very well by high maintenance and require a great deal of reassurance and hand holding.  None of this makes you an appealing client or critique group partner.

Yes, I’m sure you can find a story about someone who had a piece stolen under any of these  circumstances.  But by looking at the shelves in your local library, you can find numerous examples of work that was not stolen.

I’m not saying that you should post it all over the place and leave copies strewn across your home town.  Just learn the conventions of your industry.  Write.  Rewrite.  Let the publisher file for the copyright.  Because that’s the way it works when they pay you to use a specific set of rights.



October 19, 2018

Recharge and Renew: Pajama Day

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:04 am
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Last week, I rewrote a 15,000 word piece of teen nonfiction.  This week, I turned in a chapter and outline for my next project.  If you only count books under contract, this will be number 7 for the year.  If you count un-contracted projects, add two more to the tally.  And I wrote 2000 words on my mystery.

So what am I doing tomorrow?  I’m recharging.

Officially, I call these days Pajama Days.  Why?  Mostly because my introvert friends know what I mean.  “You’re spending the day at home in your pajamas?  Awesome!”

The best Pajama Days occur when I’m home alone. I love my boys but if you are an introvert you get it.  I don’t want to talk to anyone.  I don’t want to negotiate.  I just want to be.  Blessedly, this is turkey season.  For 36 hours, I will do what I want, when I want.  Among the possibilities are:

Crochet.  I have a school of goldfish and colony of bats in progress.  I will be working on them while I listen to an audio book and watch movies.

Audio books.  I’m listening to Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi.  I started three other audio books before this one and quit each after one disk.  This one, in contrast, is amazing.  Which I hadn’t wasted time on the others.

Reading.  I’m almost done with Louisa Morgan’s A Secret History of WitchesI’m not sure how this happens but often the book I am reading is similar to the book I am listening to.  In this case, both involve magic.

Movies.  I have Pixar’s Coco and also Shetland.  I’ve been wanting to see Coco but getting an animated piece past the boys is tough.  Shetland is a BBC mystery set in the Shetland islands.  My husband is much less of a fan because the accents sometimes lose us.  But that’s okay because I love the atmosphere.

Prehistoric Marine Reptiles.  This is my latest MOOC class. I’m only a week in but I’m really enjoying it.  I took two or three history classes in a row so getting back into  science requires a mild adjustment.

If I feel like it, I may write.  I could also bead and work on the 1960s Singer I’m bringing back into shape.  There are about ten buckets of weeds in the front bed and I will almost certainly walk or row because I just feel better when I row.  But the best part?  I’m not going anywhere for 36 hours.


Because it’s Pajama Day. A day to recharge and renew my energy.


October 18, 2018

Series Writing: Recurring Conventions

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 2:02 am
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Even if you don’t recognize the term, recurring conventions, you’ve spotted these elements in your favorite series.  Elizabeth Craig calls them tropes.  Camille LaGuire uses the term rituals.  These are the situations, settings and other elements that recur from book to book.

In Harry Potter, we have Harry’s scar and the fact that the Weasley’s are poorer than a lot of the other big wizarding families.  Miss Marple has her knitting and her ability to compare everything to her village of St. Mary Meade.  In Curious George, we have the fact that George is a curious little monkey and that, in spite of this, the Man in the Yellow Hat will, once again, leave him alone and expect him to behave.

All series have them, or at least they should.  In mysteries, I’ve noticed that a lot have to do with food, hobbies, books, or history.

Then I started thinking about my own mystery.  Yes, I’m only on book 1 but cozies tend to read like series.  Read enough of them and you’ll know what I mean.  All of this means that I should be thinking about these things even in book one.  So far I have several possibilities including:

The church choir in which she is a soprano

My character’s old-time cooking skills – pickling, baking bread, etc.

Her mother’s ability to take her from 50 year-old adult to 10 year-old child with one sideways glance

Her love of coffee

The way that her modern suburb feels like a small town – everyone knows everyone.

Is this going to be enough?  I think so but what is more important is deciding that they are the right recurring elements.  They have to be things that are interesting enough that readers come back to see what is going on in the town, in the choir and in the kitchen.

I suspect that I’ll have to shore up my recurring conventions as I rewrite the book.  Rewrite?  First I need to finish my initial draft.  Back to work!


October 17, 2018

Facts: Accuracy Is a Must

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:42 am
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Facts.  It doesn’t matter if you are writing fiction or nonfiction.  You have got to get them right.  If you don’t, you’ll alienate your reader.

That’s why I dug in my heels this week when my editor wanted me to make a change on my manuscript.  The content consultant wanted me to discuss the things teens post on Facebook.

Me:  You mean social media.

Her:  No, he said Facebook.

Me:  Teens aren’t that into Facebook.  We’re on it.

When you are talking social media, you have to know who you are talking about to know what they use.  Oldsters may be looking for what teens post on Facebook.  But that’s not where the teens are posting.  And if I say that they are, I’m going to lose my teen readers.  Thanks but no.  I worked really hard to get them.

And they aren’t the only ones who take inaccuracy seriously.  I just finished an adult novel.  A big deal scientist is discussing evolution.  He talks about people descending from apes.

I took a deep breath.  Maybe just maybe something had been botched in editing.  It’s a super picky point.  Darwin didn’t say we descended from apes.  Or monkeys.  He said we shared a common ancestor.

Then the scientists watch a computer model plot the path between chimpanzee and human.


I used to really enjoy this author.  Used to.  The book also had errors about the Dark Web and now I feel like I need to check up on everything that was said about Francisco Franko and Antoni Guadi.

It doesn’t matter if you are writing fiction or nonfiction, you have got to get the facts straight.  When you say X person who developed this theory said Z, you need to have sources.  When you say that scientists, historians, or dieticians believe W, then you need the information to back that up.

Readers are fickle creatures.  Offend them often enough and they won’t be your readers much longer.


October 16, 2018

Fact vs Fiction: Stories Based on Real Life

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:40 am
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This past week, a fight broke out at the local high school.  Apparently it was “a big one” by whatever standards are used to quantify these things. The students who started it were not from our school and somehow accessed the building in spite of locked doors, students required to wear IDs and security guards.

One student reported to his mother that the school was on lockdown for two full classes.  Or so she claimed on Facebook.  Several other parents, parents I know, said that their children said no lockdown, the principal said no lockdown, and the announcement about the event didn’t mention a lockdown.  To which mom responded, “Are you calling my kid a liar?”

Writing about this as nonfiction would be tough.  Why would this kid like?  Why do some people talk about how strict the security is and others claim there is next to none?  How do you separate the fact from the fable?  It isn’t easy, but if you are going to write something like this up, you need to do it.

Writing this whole scenario up as a fictional story is an entirely different situation.  Let’s say that a girl let the boys in because one of them had a nice smile.  I don’t know that’s what happened.  I’m just spinning possibilities.  But if I wrote that in fiction, I’d have to make it pretty compelling.  Why would she do this?  Kids break rules in real life but in fiction they have to break them for a reason.

And what about the kid who is lying to his mother?  What if he isn’t?  Again this is my spinning a tale.  What if he is painfully honest and she’s lying to get her ex-husband the head of security fired?

One of the trickiest things about using reality to build fiction is knowing what to change.  Sometimes we hesitate to change how things happened when a change would create a more compelling, believable story.  Read your local paper.  Keep up on events at the local high school.  Both can lead to more story ideas than you have time to pursue.


October 15, 2018

National Book Awards: Finalists Announced

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:18 am
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Last week the National Book Foundation announced the finalists for the National Book Awards, winners to be announced on November 14.  In the category of “Yound People’s Literature,” the nominees are:

Elizabeth Acevedo, The Poet X (Harper Teen). “Xiomara Batista feels unheard and unable to hide in her Harlem neighborhood. Ever since her body grew into curves, she has learned to let her fists and her fierceness do the talking.”

M.T. Anderson and Eugene Yelchin, The Assassination of Brangwain Spurge (Candlewick Press). “”Uptight elfin historian Brangwain Spurge is on a mission: survive being catapulted across the mountains into goblin territory, deliver a priceless peace offering to their mysterious dark lord, and spy on the goblin kingdom — from which no elf has returned alive in more than a hundred years. Brangwain’s host, the goblin archivist Werfel, is delighted to show Brangwain around. They should be the best of friends, but a series of extraordinary double crosses, blunders, and cultural misunderstandings throws these two bumbling scholars into the middle of an international crisis that may spell death for them — and war for their nations. Witty mixed media illustrations show Brangwain’s furtive missives back to the elf kingdom, while Werfel’s determinedly unbiased narrative tells an entirely different story.” M.T. Anderson previously won prize in 2006 for The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing.

Leslie Connor, The Truth as Told by Mason Buttle (Katherine Tegen Books). “As he grieves his best friend Benny’s death, Mason and his friend Calvin, who are targeted by the neighborhood bullies, create an underground haven for themselves, but when Calvin goes missing Mason finds himself in trouble.”

Christopher Paul Curtis, The Journey of Little Charlie (Scholastic Press). “When his poor sharecropper father is killed in an accident and leaves the family in debt, twelve-year-old Little Charlieagrees to accompany fearsome plantation overseer Cap’n Buck north in pursuit of people who have stolen from him; Cap’n Buck tells Little Charlie that his father’s debt will be cleared when the fugitives are captured, which seems like a good deal until Little Charlie comes face-to-face with the people he is chasing.”

Jarrett J. Krosoczka, Hey, Kiddo (Graphix). A graphic novel. “In kindergarten, Jarrett Krosoczka’s teacher asks him to draw his family, with a mommy and a daddy. But Jarrett’s family is much more complicated than that. His mom is an addict, in and out of rehab, and in and out of Jarrett’s life. His father is a mystery — Jarrett doesn’t know where to find him, or even what his name is. Jarrett lives with his grandparents — two very loud, very loving, very opinionated people who had thought they were through with raising children until Jarrett came along.”

National Book Award titles always feel like they’ve been pulled from the headlines.  Given that, I’m very curious about he Assassination of Brangwain Spurge which I’ve yet to read.  Now awaiting a copy from my library.  Pick some of these up and let me know what you think.



October 12, 2018

5 Minutes a Day: NaNoWriMo

Do you plan to take part in NaNoWriMo?  For those of you who have somehow missed the phenomenon that is NaNoWriMo, it stands for National Novel Writing Month.  During the month of November, each participant commits to drafting a 50,000 word novel.  No, you can’t rewrite something you’ve already written.  No, this isn’t the time to finish up something you’ve started.  When you sign up, you are committing to draft at least 50,000 words of a NEW novel.

I’m not going to be doing NaNoWriMo for three reasons.

  •  I will most likely be rewriting a book I just got paid for.
  • I will most likely also be rewriting a book that is due at the beginning of November.
  • I already started drafting my novel.

That said, NaNoWriMo can be a great program to get you started.  But be sure to spend some time planning your story.  Yes, planning.  Here are 5 five-minute tasks for you to complete before November 1.

  1. Decide which of your great novel ideas you will pursue.  If you are as busy as I am, the temptation is to spend October getting things done with little time spent thinking about what you are going to write.  After all, I have a notebook with 261 story ideas in it.  No, really.  I just checked.  261.  To be successful you have to know which story you will draft because you have some prep work to complete.  That leads me to …
  2. Write a premise or elevator pitch for your story.  In broad strokes, what is it about?  Where does the tension come from? What is the character’s goal?
  3. Spend some time getting to know your main character.  What does she want more than anything?  What is on the line if she fails?  What stands in her way.
  4. Are the stakes high enough?  Is her ambition big enough to carry a book?  Because if not you may have troubles making that 50,000 word count.  Take a good look at what you’ve laid out and increase the stakes as needed.
  5. Outline.  I can hear the pantsers screaming from here.  I’m not saying do a detailed outline but do jot down the broad strokes.  What is the inciting incident?  What is the climax?  I know it is out-of-order but those are the two points I tend to start with mentally.  What attempts does the character make to solve the problem?  How does she fail?  For some people, this is enough to get started.  If you aren’t one fo those people, spend a few more five-minute sessions laying things out.

NaNoWriMo.  It’s doable especially if you’ve done some prep work.


October 11, 2018

Writing Humor: Oddly Specific

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:57 am
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Way back when I first started writing, I attended a conference workshop on how to write humor.  At the beginning of the session, the presenter encouraged us to imagine our character’s backpack.  What would be inside?

He explained that the expected items might include a math book, a spiral notebook, a pencil, even half a sandwich.  Humor comes in when you make things oddly specific.

Instead of a math book, your character might have Escher’s Basic Geometry.  Half a sandwich?  That’s going to depend what type of sandwich.  PBJ?  Boring.  Half a peanut butter, bologna, onion, and pickle is something else altogether.  I have to admit that I’m only so-so at this.  My son?  He’s a natural.  Three of the five items in the script below were his.

In fact, he’s the one that reminded me of this exercise.  He was telling me about a class exercise in sociology class.  It was about societal expectations and how people react when unexpected things happen.  Each student was asked to write down four things – a place, a food, an item, and a dollar amount.  It turned out that the professor was using them in a Mad-libs style script that went something like this.

Him:  I’m sorry we’re at the food court.  If I’d had ($3.26) more, I’d have taken you to (Paris).

Her: That’s okay.  This is great.  I’ll take (Church’s Chicken) and (zebra cakes).

Him:  And thank you for my gift.  I’ve always wanted (a bootleg copy of Incredibles 2).

This would have been a lot less funny if he had said he wanted to take her to the country or the beach.  Paris. That’s a place we can picture and seems a bit out of reach for anniversary food court types.  Again, chicken and cake?  So what.  Church’s Chicken and zebra cakes?  It’s a combination worthy of pregnancy.

Specific and off.  It isn’t what makes all humor funny but it is something that you can slip into most any type of fiction.  Instead of a favorite teddy bear, your character could have a stuffed bullfrog.

Play around with some details in your story and see if you can bring a smile to your reader’s face.


October 10, 2018

Setting Goals: 5 Steps to Getting the Writing Done

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:22 am
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When you write full-time, people have no problem telling you how lucky you are.  “You get to do what you want every day?”  While that isn’t quite true, I am far too easy for people to find, I do acknowledge that this is pretty awesome.  But it can still be tricky to squeeze the writing in.

Squeeze it in?  You bet.

When you have an eight-hour day and you are working on something tricky, it can be really had to put the writing off.  And then put it off some more.  And then it’s bed time and look how clean the windows are!

With that in mind, here are five steps to help you meet your writing goals.

  1.  Set concrete goals.  Yes, that’s right.  Oddly enough, to meet goals you have to set goals.  Strange but true.  Your goals also have to be concrete.  Not “I am going to write this week” but I am going to write 15 minutes a day, Monday through Friday.”  Make it straightforward so that you know you have been successful.
  2. Know what works.  This may take some time. Write down the goals that you set.  Write down what you managed to accomplish.  Then take a look at what worked.  Some people do better with word count goals.  “Write 200 words a day.”  Others need a time frame.  “Write for 15 minutes.”  Others need what I call writing specific goals.  “Finish a draft of my new picture book.”  “Write 2 chapters of my novel.”
  3. Evaluate.  Once you’ve worked toward your goals for a week or two, review them.  Are they working?  If not, try something different.  I can’t coffee shop write.  It is too distracting.  A friend can’t write at home.  The quiet is annoying.  If things are working, that’s good.  If not, try something new.
  4. Look for positives.  As you work to set your goals, look for the things that work well.  If you are a morning writing, set a goal to write in the morning.  If you need an outline before you write, include this in your goals.  Work with your strengths.
  5. Adjust upward.  As you develop a writing habit, nudge your goals upward.  Try to write for a longer period.  Try to write one more day a week.

Just remember to be realistic.  I remember reading that an author I idolized wrote 5 days a week, 8 hours a day. As a new writer, I found this very discouraging.  I was doing good to write for 20 minutes!  That was before I developed a solid writing habit.

Find what works for you.  Adjust it as you go.  Soon you’ll be adding words and pages to your count and making progress.



October 9, 2018

Graphic Novels: Is This Form Right for Your Story?

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 6:50 am
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EstrangedLast week, I attended a webinar by School Library Journal on comic book writing.  The guests were Ethan Aldridge, author of Estranged, and Wendy Xu, part of the SLJ team.   One of the things that they stressed was how vital it is to recognize both novels and graphic novels as legitimate means of story telling.

A novel is text-based.  It challenges readers to imagine what the characters and setting look like.  It stresses reading and literacy and is great for one type of learner.

A graphic novel may be better for visual learners because it stresses images over text.  It helps readers develop visual literacy, especially as they work to read and identify emotion.

But it also means knowing which is the better form for your particular story.  A fantasy or science fiction graphic novel allows the illustrator to develop the world.  It doesn’t require paragraphs or pages of text to tell the reader what the buildings look like and what people, if they are people, wear.  The illustrator simply depicts it.

The illustrator can also expand on the story by including characters in the background of multiple panels.  Readers will begin to look for these characters and they can be used to develop a visual subplot.

The fact that a graphic novel is illustration based means that it can be difficult to have an unreliable narrator.  The reader sees the world that the main character sees.  That said, the reader may see something in the distance that the character doesn’t.

I can’t say that I feel prepared to start writing graphic novels. But I’m curious to learn more about how the various elements work together to move the story forward, create tone, and more.  I’ve got a number of books on request including Sanity and Tallulah by Molly Brooks, Fake Blood by Whitney Gardner, and of course Estranged by Ethan Aldridge.  I’ll be requesting more as I finish these so let me know if you have any favorites.


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