Thankful Thanksgiving

For those of you who celebrate, I’d like to wish you a Happy Thanksgiving. Take this time to recharge your creative battery.

I have a lot to be thankful for in my writing life.  I just finished a rewrite on book #27.  And about two weeks ago a publisher contacted me about writing for them.  I sent in my sample yesterday.  We’ll see if I have some news to report next week!

I’m also thankful that my writing accountability group talked me into doing NaNoWriMo as a rebel.  My goal was for an outline of my mystery and then working on my draft, updating to fit the new outline and adding new scenes.  I’ve got about 21,000 words at this point.  Fingers crossed that I can get 4000 more words in the next three days.

What about recharging? I don’t really have a choice — and that’s a good thing!  I don’t know if this is just a MidWest thing but our Thanksgiving celebration stretches across Thanksgiving Weekend.

Thursday, we have dessert with my Dad and dinner with my sister and her family.

Friday we’re doing dinner with my turkey hating in-laws.  Think appetizers, soup buffet and dessert.

Saturday is just a regular day – thankfully.  Because I will be baking for Sunday.

Sunday is Thankful dinner with a friend who has no family in town.  Turkey, cranberries, home baked bread, green bean casserole and pumpkin pie.

So I’m going to be stepping away from my computer, except for NaNo writing, and spending some time with my family, knitting, walking on the treadmill and knitting.

I hope all of you have a wonderful holiday.  See you on Monday.



Imposter Syndrome

Thanksgiving is tomorrow which means that you may very well find yourself sitting across the table from someone who questions your writing credentials.  “So how is that little story that your working on?” Never mind that you are in the midst of NaNoWriMo and have written thousands of words this month alone.  You are still only dabbling.

How do you respond?

For a lot of us it is really difficult because we truly feel like imposters.  Who am I to call myself a writer?  I’ve only sold one article/poem/book.  No one I know has even read it.  What if I can’t do it again?

I just watched a TedTalk Sydney with entrepreneur Mike Cannon-Brookes on imposter syndrome.  Specifically, he talks about using it to your advantage. That’s the video above.

He talks about winning an Australian award for young entrepreneurs and feeling like a complete fraud when he won. How could he deserve it more than anyone else in the room?  At the international dinner in Monte Carlo he learned that other people there felt the same way, even people who had way more experience and success and thousands of employees.

His advice?  Just keep on going.  No one with a suit is going to come up to you and say “hey, you gotta stop what you’re doing.”  So just do it.

It isn’t just our characters who have dark moments.  Each and every writer I know, including those who are also editors, sometimes feels like just giving up.  Who are they to call themselves writers when someone else writes more, gets nominated for awards or already has sales?

Here me say it.  We all feel that way.

So how does this help you at the big family event?  Just because you some times feel like an imposter doesn’t mean that you are an imposter. When someone asks you a cheeky question about how your little efforts are going, just smile.  “Quite, well thank you.”  Of course, if you are feeling especially cheeky yourself, you can tag a bit more on.  “Quite, well thank you. And, by the way, what’s your biggest fear?  I’d hate to get it wrong.”




Character Archetypes

Campbell and Campbell for Writers.

Long, long ago in a galaxy far, far away when I first heard people talk about character archetypes, they spoke of only one group of archtypes. This were the mythological archetypes as identified by Joseph Campbell and written about in The Writer’s Journey by Christopher Vogler.  As discussed by Vogler, the archetypes can help you find a better understanding of story.

Then I saw this post by Donald Maass, The Two Types of Archetype.  Maass explains that mythological archetypes can be problematic because they are static.  They don’t grow or change.

Instead he recommended that we stead personality archetypes as identified by Jung. Our personalities grow and change over time and so do these archetypes as a person moves through “stages of self.” Personality types that might be of use to writers, as identified by Maass, include Innocent, Orphan, Hero, Caregiver, Explorer, Rebel, Lover, Creator, Jester, Sage, Magician, Ruler.

Identify the archetype that you are using for a certain character and you will have a better understanding from where this character is starting and where this same character needs to end up by the end. For writers who are interested in this, Maass recommends reading The Hero Within by Carol S. Pearson.

Over at DIY MFA, Gabriela Pereira has also been writing about archetypes.  She says that characters fall into four different archetypes.  I’m not sure when her second post will come out, but her first on the topic deals with two of these archetypes – the underdog and the disrupter.

As discussed by Pereira, an underdog is a regular person caught in a irregular situation.  Think Luke Skywalker and his work to become a jedi.  Ordinary farm boy striving to become a knight.  A disruptor is a person who stuggles against the status quo.

It seems like in Pereira’s archetypes there is overlap.  She identifies Katniss Everdeen as an underdog.  I’d think of her as a disruptor.

Whichever system you choose to work with, read up on archetypes and use them to strengthen your characters, making them more compelling to help hook your readers.


Why Writers Need to Be Bored

I need my down time, quiet time, time away from screens.  I’ve known this for years but now I begin to understand why.

“When you’re bored, you tend to daydream, and your mind wanders, and this is a very, very important part of the creative process,” says psychologist Sandi Mann.  When I read this in the Open Culture post, “The Benefits of Boredom,” something clicked.

I am a day dreamer.  And it doesn’t take me very long to engage.  Kneading bread, pulling weeds, walking, sitting in a meeting.  Yeah, sorry about the last one.  But if you talk for too terribly long and you’re just monologuing, off goes my mind.  But now I know it is a good thing.

Taking the time without a lot of external stimulus your brain makes connections.  This is when you come up with some of your more creative thoughts.

Honestly, I think this is why Einstein got some of his best work done when he worked in the patent office.  It didn’t take long for him to get his daily work done and then he was free to let his mind roam.  Since he preferred thought experiments to physical experiments, he could spend time in his mental playground.

So the next time you get stuck on a story, get yourself a cup of coffee and go sit.  Stare out the window.  Rock on the porch swing.  Feel the breeze.  And think.  Think about what you’ve written.  Think about where you are trying to go.  Inhale and exhale and just be.

Me? I like to knit.

Knitting keeps me in one spot.  It the pattern is fairly easy I can and do think about other things.  Before two long I’ve usually come up with a fix for whatever writing problem I’m facing.

So the next time you can’t figure something out in your story.  Get away from your screen. Don’t check your e-mail.  Put down your phone.  Just be.  You may just surprise yourself.


National Book Award Winners

Congratulations to this year’s National Book Award winners.  They are:

For Young People’s Literature:

For Fiction:



Translated Literature:

I’ve been busily requesting titles from my library but I have to admit that I’m most curious about 1919.  In part, that is to be expected.  It is a book for young people.  I write books for young people

But look at the full title.  1919: The Year That Changed America. 

Really?  1919?  Nothing to do with the Civil War which was fought on US soil.   Not a date that is important by railway standards.

Is it just that this date is 100 years ago? Here is what the publisher has to say in the description:

“Some of the most important issues of our time were no less important 100 years ago. America in 1919, at the close of World War I, was shaken from the events of large-scale warfare, fearing a Communist takeover, and facing an incredible amount of social and political change. From Prohibition to women’s suffrage, the labor strikes to the violence of the Red Summer and the Red Scare, this book explores each major movement of 1919. Showing how these events were interrelated and examining their continued relevance to our country a century later, Martin Sandler offers a unique historical perspective on the trajectory of the major movements of the 20th century. Showing readers how every current event has unique and fascinating history preceding it, this book will help them better understand the world they live in and the change many still seek today, offering educators a framework for discussing historical perspective and progress”-

I’m really looking forward to reading this one and seeing how author Martin Sandler makes his case.


Reading Like a Writer: What I am Reading Right Now






As I’ve mentioned before, I seldom read one book at a time.  Part of this is because I read different books for different reasons.  These are my current titles.

I am working on a picture book manuscript so, not surprisingly, I am reading picture books.  If you are thinking of writing a cummulative tale, pick up My Pet Wants a Pet by Elise Broach.  You’ll get some insight on the variety that can be brought to that form.  Peter Reynolds’s Sky Colors is a great example of how to write a theme that could easily be preachy. In this case, that theme is “think outside the box.”

Toni Morrison’s Home is our current book club title.  Morrison is one of my sister’s favorite authors and I wanted to read something that was somewhat atypical.  Pick it up and you’ll see what I mean.  Sorry.  I’m not going to spoil it.  You’ll have to read it for yourself.

The Book of Unknown Americans by Cristina Henriquez is my current audio book title.  With so many point of view characters, this is the perfect title for an audio production.  Different actors give voice to the characters and each character has a distinct voice independent from the actor.  This is a book about immigrants from south of the US including Panama and Mexico.

The final book is by poet Beth Gordon.  Morning Walk with Dead Possum, Breakfast and Parallel Universe is my current coffee table book.  I don’t read a book of poetry in a single sitting although it would be possible to read the text that quickly.  But I wouldn’t get the feeling or the resonance of the poetry.  When I walk past the sofa, I can sit and read a poem.  I might reread one from earlier for continued reflection.  I might move on  to the next poem.

What books are you currently reading?  Share your suggestions below.



Heartdrum: New HarperCollins Imprint

I love it when a publisher announces a new imprint.

HarperCollins is launching Heartdrum. an imprint of books written by Native creators with Native protagonists. Books will be set in Indian Country in the present day or in the future.   Heading the imprint are Rosemary Brosnan, vice-president and editorial director at HarperCollins Children’s Books and author Cynthia Leitich Smith who is a member of the Muscogee Creek Nation.

Smith and Brosnan have worked together since Brosnan edited Smith’s 2000 debut title, Jingle Dancer, a picture book.  Brosnan is also the editor of Smith’s next two titles, Rain Is Not My Indian Name (2001) and Indian Shoes (2002). Smith currently has additional titles under contract with Brosnan.

The imprint was conceived because of Smith’s dismay at the limited number of Native authors currently published as well as the narrow vision of the books themselves. She also saw a problem in the titles that were published.  “The books themselves are not reflective of the diversity of Native people—not only the diversity among Nations but also the diversity of individuals in terms of their rural or urban lifestyle and so many other characteristics,” she observed. “It is so clear that we need more Native voices represented in every children’s book format, from picture books to middle-grade to books for teens.” Having worked with Brosnan over the years, Smith knew that the editor worked to publish a wide variety of authors and books.

Heartdrum is launching in the Winter of 2021.  On the imprint’s launch list is Ancestor Approved, an anthology  that intertribal powwow stories.  It is edited by Smith.  A second title is The Sea in Winter, a novel by Christine Day whose October release, I Can Make This Promise, was edited by Brosnan.

I’ve always enjoyed Smith’s books and can’t wait to see what titles come out from Heartdrum.


Idea Generation: The Intellectual Devotional

This weekend my writing friend poet Beth Gordon told us about a book she uses for inspiration – The Intellectual Devotional. Normally, a devotional is religious or spiritual.  These devotionals are designed to help strengthen your breadth of knowledge.

Mondays focus on history.  Tuesdays are all about literature. Wednesdays are devoted to the visual arts. Thursday is for Science.  Friday is music day. Saturdays topics are philosophical and, naturally, Sunday is for religion.

The pieces for Week One are The Alphabet, Ulysses, Lascaux Cave Paintings, Cloning, the Basics of Music, Appearance and Reality, and the Torah.  With only a single print page per piece, they don’t go into great detail but they also include additional facts on the topic.

Beth said that when she sits down to write but doesn’t know what to write about, she picks up her copy of The Intellectual Devotional and flips it open.  More often than not, the piece she reads inspires a poem.

If you want to check this resource out for yourself, Barnes and Noble has a Nook version online.  I haven’t looked at every screen but it if isn’t the full book it is an extensive sample.  Check it out here.

Not sure this is the best source of inspiration for you?  Some of us do better with visual cues.  If that is the case, you can check out the Creative Commons photo site Pixabay.  It is searchable but there are always a variety of images on the front page.  Today they include a fox, a man with a camera, a bald eagle, a skate boarder and a castle.

Another great source of prompts are Illustration Friday.  This weeks prompt is “brain,” so you can brainstorm brain-based story ideas as well as check out the illustrations people have submitted based on the prompt.

Where do you turn when you need a prompt?  Share your sources of inspiration below.



Writing Retreats

My work space.

Ahhhh.  That’s the sound of a writer who has had a weekend among her peers. This past weekend, I was lucky enough to attend the Gateway Writing Project’s fall retreat.  My friend Sioux Roslawski is the assistant director and organizes this event twice a year.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with the Gateway Writing Project, since 1978 it has been sponsored by the University of Missouri-St. Louis.  It promotes writing among both students and teachers in districts across the region.

The first line of text on the site pretty much says it all. “Are you working on a dissertation? A memoir? Some poetry? A YA novel?” Unlike many retreats, this event isn’t genre focused. It isn’t juried.  There are no speakers, editors, or agents.  It is all about writers helping and encouraging other writers. This weekend, we had people working on poetry, NaNoWriMo novels, requested rewrites, journal articles and course materials.

Some of my fellow writers.

As varied as the types of projects were the ways that people wrote.  I was on my laptop.  A educational professor outlined materials for her new course using post-it notes.  A poet wrote in longhand.  Another teacher created bulleted journal grids.  As I worked, I heard tapping keys, the glide of markers, and so much quiet.

It was amazing.  Not only did everyone have hours and hours to write, we had encouragement and fed off each others energy.  There were no worries about what a visiting editor might say or whether or not the agent would like how a piece had been rewriting.

Sure, marketing was discussed.  But more than anything it was about the writing.

The first time I attended this event last spring, I was a little intimidated.  I’m not a teacher, I told myself.  And that was still how I introduced myself this weekend.  “I’m not a teacher, but…”

This weekend they helped me understand.  I’m not a teacher who writes.  I am a writer who teaches.


Author Copies: Stem Cells

Look what showed up in the mail on Wednesday!

As much as I love writing science topics for young readers, it is tricky. First, I have to find accurate source material. With this book, this was trickier than it should have been.  I’d type “stem cell therapy” into Google and get information on various types of gene therapy.  The information itself may have been accurate but it wasn’t the right type of therapy.

Then I had to figure out how to explain the science without simplifying it to the point that what I wrote was inaccurate. Fortunately, I have a friend who is a nurse.  He answered a lot of questions and proofed various passages for me, sometimes from the hospital!  I definitely owe a special note of thanks to Chris!

But it is worth it when you manage to put together a book that can help young readers understand a complex topic.  At this point, I’ve written about stem cells, physics, chemistry, astronomy, mathematics, evolution and rocket science.

I wonder what I’ll get to write about next?