Prize Pack: Keep Calm and Carry on Children and Snacks

Today a box came in the mail.  I won a copy of Sharon K. Mayhew’s Keep Calm and Carry On, Children and a variety of English snacks since the book is set in England.

If I didn’t know better, I’d say that Sharon knows how I spent my Sundays growing up.  First, we all went to church.  Then I, later my sister and I , went to my grandparent’s house.  First we fixed lunch.  Maybe we watched a movie.  Grandpa liked John Wayne, Laurel and Hardy and he and Grandma both watched Bob Hope and Bing Crosby.  I may have been the only grade schooler who has seen every On the Road movie that the pair made.

Then we would read.  Often I would read and the adults would nap.  But reading at Grandma’s meant reading and grazing.  Grandma grazed on peanuts, mixed nuts or bridge mix.  Occasionally there would be Pringles or Buggles or Brach’s Neapolitan Coconut candy.  That was Grandpa’s favorite.

This would defintiely have drawn a crowd.  And today is supposed to be rainy, snowy and cold.  The perfect day for reading and grazing.  Grandma and Grandpa would definitely have approved.

Thank you, Sharon!


Little Free Library: Trademarks and Legal Wrangling

I wish I had gotten pictures of the two Little Free Libraries we saw in the Eureka Springs area.  One was next to a school.  The other was near the library.  I just love these tiny libraries!

So I was more than a little upset to see this story in Publisher’s Weekly, “Little Free Library, Founder’s Family Clash Over Organization’s Direction.”  It appears that Little Free Library, the organization, has filed with the US Patent Office to trademark three different things.  The first is the phrase “Little Free Library.”  The second and third include the use of this phrase in connection with two other phrases.

Tony Boi, the brother of deceased Little Free Library founder Todd Boi, says that these licenses would allow Little Free Library to shut down libraries that people have built vs ordering them from the organization whether or not these libraries have been registered with the organization.

Grieg Metzger, LFL executive director, says that the organization does not intent to do anything of the kind.  But they do want to stop for-profit business from making and selling book boxes marketed as “Little Free Libraries.”  And who runs just such a company called Share with Others?  Tony Boi.

“We’re like Newman’s Own or Tom’s or Love Your Melon,” Boi said, “We’re a for-profit that advances the concept of sharing,”  You can find out more about Share with Others by reading this article here and or visiting the organizational website here.

Who is right and who is wrong?  That’s an excellent question.


Word Count: How Much Is Too Much?

Recently I saw a Writer’s Digest graphic describing word count for a novel. I learned that for my mystery, 80,000 to 89,999 words should be my target.

But what about children’s books? I last posted about this two years ago so I wanted to see if anything had changed.

Board Books: The only listing I found for this type of book was from 1/2 to 1 manuscript page.  That sould be 300 words or less.  Otherwise short, shorter, shortest!

Picture Books:  The length of a picture book will vary depending on the age of the reader and fiction vs nonfiction.  For a preschooler, the maximum word count is generally 500 words.  For a kindergartner or first grader, up to 800 words.  Nonfiction picture books which a generally for slightly older readers can be longer, up to 1000 words.

Easy/Beginning Readers:  The counts that I’m seeing on this are all over the place but a lot of it depends on the publisher.  What are the numbers I’m seeing?  As short as 1,500 words or up to 25 manuscript pages.  Check author’s guidelines or AR tests (which give the word count) to know for your target publisher.

Chapter Books:  40–60 manuscript pages.  These are for independent readers who aren’t ready yet for really long books.  So they are longer than early readers but shorter than middle grade novels.

Middle Grade: This is another one that can vary widely but part of it will depend on the age of the reader and type of book.  Books for the youngest readers in this group (8 to 9 years old) tend to be 15,000 to 25,000 words with 45,000 to 65,000 words for the older middle grade readers (11 to 12) and 25,000 to 45,000 words for those in the middle.  Fantasy novels may be slightly longer.

Young Adult:  For this one, the numbers that I saw listed most were 70,000 to 80,000 so about the same as for my mystery.

The great thing about writing for children and teens is that you can check AR tests for word count. That way you know where books from your target publisher fit into these ranges.


Halloween Picture Books: Pair Creepy with Funny

Halloween picture books fascinate me.  When my son was little, our favorite was probably the Berenstain Bears Spooky Old Tree.  If you have never read it, it is an early reader picture book about whether or not the bears will dare to go inside this massive spooky tree.  Of course, they do it or it would be a really short and rather pointless book.

This weekend, I read Zombie in Love by Kelly DiPucchio.  Mortimer is lonely. He’s tried to find a girlfriend but none of the girls he approaches can see his winning smile, his caring heart or his funny bone.  They just see that he’s a zombie.

So where does the funny come in?  This is one of those books that sound sweet and sincere when you read the text and the humor frequently comes in through the illustrations.  Imagine a zombie with a snaggle-toothes smile, an infested box of chocolate and a suit that has most likely spent some time underground.  Now imagine Mortimer approaching a formal-wearing girls at a dance.

For a young reader who is fascinated by the zombie’s that entertain and amuse older siblings or parents but just can’t handle the gore and the screams, a picture book is the perfect solution.  Written for a young audience, it keeps the gore fairly light.  When Mortimer tries to work out and his arm is pulled off by the weights, it is nasty because you know it is nasty.  The illustration?  Not nasty at all.

The humor takes the edge off even this level of nasty.

Some other Halloween picture books you might read are Creepy Carrots or Creepy Pair of Underwear by Aaron Reynolds and Peter Brown, Anne Marie Pace’s Vamperina Ballerina, Bonaparte Falls Apart by Margery Cuyler, and How to Make Friends with a Ghost by Rebecca Green.


Writing Fiction: Go Big or Go Home

My favorite Kate DiCamillo character.

I’ve been trying to get back into my mystery this week and get started on a new picture book. . .

(cricket, cricket, cricket)

I say this and I’ve done some pre-work but sitting down to actually write has not been in the cards.  And the really sorry thing is that I don’t have a good reason.  Sure, I could list dozens of things that I have done – an interview, two trips to the library, worked out, etc.

But writing?  Nope.

Then I saw an interview today with Kate DiCamillo on her book Beverly, Right Here. In part, the interview is about DiCamillo’s tendency to give her characters big problems and trust her readers to deal with them.  But the interview also got me to thinking about the fiction I love.

Kate DiCamillo’s characters don’t just have big problems, they have HUGE personalities.  Think about Mercy Watson on Deckawoo Drive.  She is a big pig who loves hot buttered toast and her family and friends.  She is loaded with personality.

It doesn’t matter if I’m talking picture book, early reader, young adult or adult.  All of the books I love have personality to spare.  The Raven Cycle.  The Dresden Files.  The Troubleshooter series.  Strictly speaking, none of them are believable because the characters are just too . . . something.  What depends on the character.  But they are entertaining and compelling.

So maybe that’s what I need to look for in my own ideas.  Is my main character ho hum or packed full of personality?  If the latter, I think I’d be excited and ready to write.  But they seem to be the former so it is time for a makeover.  This is going to take some thought but that’s okay.  If I work it out in my head, then I will be prepared to work it out on paper.

And, on that note, I have to get ready for choir.  But when she’s working with the altos, I’ll be working on my character.


Writing Fact Based Fiction

ThumbnailWriting fiction based on fact is always tricky.  Often the problem is that we are tempted to avoid making changes.  “But that’s how it really happened!”  Maybe so but it may require a few changes to make a believable and compelling story.

It is often much easier to simply take inspiration from the world around us.  The city where I live is the inspiration for my mystery setting.  Eureka Springs, Arkansas?  That’s going to feature in still another story.

People can also inspired our characters but you have to be careful when you do this.  My mystery protagonist is loosely based on myself.  The problem?  No flaws.  She’s practically perfect.  What?!  The problem came about because my own weaknesses aren’t compatible with this fictional story so I didn’t pass them on to my character.  Which is fine but now I need to assign her something that does make sense and thus make her more believable.

ThumbnailYou also have to decide how much of your story is fact and how much is fiction.  If you are writing based on your own life and it is very factual, you may be writing autofiction.  This is a term I didn’t know when a friend used it so she explained that autofiction is a memoir treated as fiction.  Perhaps the writer created dialogue or couldn’t remember details that needed to be filled in to make the story believable.  When that happens, it is not longer nonfiction but autofiction.  Autoficiton is written in first person and the main character is the author.  So in Juliet the Maniac by Juliet Escoria, the character is named Juliet Escoria.  Another work of autofiction is by her husband Scott McClanahan and is titled The Sarah Book. 

Fact and fiction aren’t always miles apart.


Retreats, Residencies and Colonies

Interior at one of the Dairy Hollow bldgs.

Yesterday I saw a headline that Stephen King’s home in Maine is going to be an archive and writer’s retreat. It is going to be some time yet before it is ready for eager writers but a friend and I were just talking about applying to a retreat together.

Some retreats are free — funded by scholarships and various other funds.  Some require a payment.

Right now, my friend Ann who writes the most amazing essays and is working on a memoir, is at the Writer’s Colony and Dairy Hollow in Eureka Springs, Arkansas.  She said that it is $85.00 night and that includes your own room and writing room as well as meals.  One of the rooms includes a rather elaborate kitchen for those working on a cook book.  How cool is that?

I remember scoffing at the need for this kind of thing at one point in my life but now I get it.  How crazy is this?  When my kid was in grade school, I felt like I had the time I needed. Now that he is in college, I need to go somewhere else to write.  Don’t get me wrong.  I write at home but there’s something about going on a retreat that reminds me that this is serious and I need to get to it.  I don’t entirely get it but I’ve come to accept it.

If you need to get away so that you can write, check out the Writer’s Colony in Dairy Hollow.  I haven’t stayed there but my friend Ann says it is top notch.  You can also Google “writers retreat,” “writers colony,” or “writers residency.”  Some like Dairy Hollow are for writers only.  Others, including Ragdale, are multidisciplinary and include all types of artists.

Do you have a group of writing friends who would like to book an event together? Google retreat centers and make your own retreat.  Retreat centers, in my experience are more likely to provide meals.

And, in case you are wondering, yes, there is a plot afoot.


Setting: Making It Real and Establishing a Mood

The Grotto Spring in the day time.

Today I read a really interesting post on how to build a strong setting by D.M. Pulley. In addition to the importance of deciding whether or not you should you as actual place or a completely fictional location, she also talked about mapping your city or neighborhood and drawing something similar to a blueprint for all important buildings.

Something else I noticed this weekend was using a setting to establish the mood or tone of your story.  Last Friday, we were walking a friend back to the Writer’s Colony in Eureka Springs, Arkansas.  Just before we reached her house, we met a couple sitting on a bench enjoying the cool air and watching the wildlife.  A pair of foxes had just wandered off into the dark.

They asked us if we had every been down into the Grotto Spring which they were sitting next too.  The cave-like grotto was down a set of stairs and shrowded in darkness.  No way was my friend going to go down there but I’m often nosier than I am bright.  The light from my phone wouldn’t let me see back into the corners so all I could get a look at was the shrine against the back wall.  I’m not super spooky but it was creepy.

The rest of the walk we discussed how perfect the town was on a dark October evening as a setting for a ghost story or horror.  Leaves rattled in the dark. The damp sidewalks were uneven limestone, often slippery underfoot.  Periodically a Victorian house loomed up out of the dark.  The next morning not far from her house, we spotted a tree full of vultures!  A fossil shop had a cave bear skeleton for sale.

Flatiron Bldg. Tile

But then it quit raining and the sun came out.  All around town were houses painted bright colors – pink, red, yellows and greens.  We met a friendly cat and oohed and aahed over broad porches, towers with conical roofs and even a statue of a protocerytops in one yard.  Sunlight reached to the far corners of the grotto.  One building in the historic district had gorgeous tile work. This wasn’t a horror setting but someplace a girl might accompany a family member to one of the healing springs.

Touching historic fiction.  Light hearted family story.  Or dark, gothic mystery.  Any of these types of stories and more could be set in the same town.  It all depends on what details you the author choose to bring forward.


Inspiration: Seeking Story Ideas and Energy

St. Elizabeth of Hungary Catholic Church

For almost two weeks, one of my writing friends who lives in New Hampshire is staying at the Writer’s Colony in Eureka Springs, Arkansas.  Friday, I turned in my latest teen nonfiction manuscript and my husband and I hit the road.  I knew I was just happy, Happy, HAPPY to be away from my desk because the time on the highway, five hours no less, passed in a flash.

After two or three wrong turns, we met up with Ann and then walked a mile to the historic district.  After dinner, we strolled back to her house-for-the week.  Walk through a Victorian-era town after dark in the autumn

Some places just beg to become settings and Eureka Springs is one of those places.  As you can probably tell by the name, it is the home of a number of springs that are believed to have healing properties including at least one miraculous recovery.

Dormitory, hospital, now Crescent Hotel

There was a girl’s dormitory.  I’m not sure if that had something to do with one of several hospitals or a school.  There was a Carnegie Library that is still in operation.   At least one of the medical institutions was a full blown snake oil and cruelty situation which rather begs for a book.  There’s also a Frank Lloyd Wright house there.

Flatiron building

If I managed to learn this much in just over 24 hours, I can’t even imagine how much is lurking, waiting for discovery.  We will definitely have to make a trip back there although we will NOT go during October-fest, the War-Eagle craft fair which has over 100 vendors, etc.

Are you feeling tapped out and unable to come up with new story ideas?  Then you may need to take a break.  I know a trip isn’t always possible but what about a stay-cation?  I’m an hour away from a zoo, science museum, botanical garden and miles and miles of trails, several historic cemeteries and more.  I can think of several places I’ve yet to explore.

Why someplace new?  Favorite places are good, but sometimes you need new experiences to really fuel your creative fire.