3 Sources of Inspiration

Inspiration for readers. Inspiration for writers.
Photo by Prateek Katyal on Pexels.com

I try to get my posts for the week written by Wednesday. I failed to do that this week and was more than a little blue about that fact. “I’m so behind!” But then I got up Thursday morning and went on-line. I’m so glad that I had a post still open this week so that I could point you toward some inspirational people.

Dr. Jill Biden

As I’m sure many of you know, Biden’s degree is in education. She was chosen as the final speakef for this week’s American Library Association virtual conference. She pointed out that libraries are places that young people gather and grow. They grow into kind, compassionate people. “What you do matters so much,” she said. “In big cities and small towns, libraries fulfill a purpose that almost nothing else does. They’re a place of information for all; a place where people can come together as a community. It’s the aisles of books, the knowledge of generations collected and open to anyone. …”

Isn’t it wonderful to know that as writers our work is a part of this? You can read more about what she had to say here.

Darrion Cockrell

You know who Jill Biden is but I’d be willing to guess that most of you have no idea who Darrion Cockrell is. He was recently selected as the Missouri Teacher of the Year for 2021. Many children’s writers are teacher and he emphasized just how important teacher were, especially PE teachers, in turning his life around.

You see by the time he was 10 year-old he was a gang member. He later became a foster child. But because 2 teachers focused on helping him find a place at school, he became someone his entire community looks up to. He has an impact on students every day. What does he teach? PE.

I’ll admit. I can be more than a bit elitist and was surprised they gave the award to a gym teacher. Really? They gave it to a teacher who meets his students where they are and gives them a reason to love school. That’s something we as writers, me included, need to remember.

Check out his video statement.

Darrion Cockrell talks about the teachers who inspired him.

Amanda Gorman

I wrote about Amanda Gorman on my Facebook author page. Gorman is the young poet who read a poem at Joe Biden’s inauguration. Gorman grew up with a speech impediment which she overcame as a young adult.

What inspires me most about her? Since the inauguration, she has spoken about how overwhelmed she has been by the response to her work. She isn’t a young poet who walks around patting herself on the back.

She is someone who writes from the heart and her words connect with those who hear them.

We can’t plan to do that. It would be nice if we could. But what we can do is to keep putting our hearts into what we write, keep supporting our libraries, and our teachers and students. Because reaching out can make a difference.


2 Markets in Search of Work

I recently found out about two markets who are in search of work if you write speculative fiction or fairy tales.

Enchanted Conversations

Enchanted Converations: A Fairy Tale Magazine publishes retellings and mashups of multiple tales as well as modern stories told as fairy tales. These are tales of transformation and magic. They also publish creative nonfiction and essays about fairy tales.

Their theme for 2021 is Healers, Midwives, and Cunning Folk.

I’ve seen interviews with editor and she makes it clear. You need to visit the site and read the ezine before you submit. She can always tell when people see a listing and submit without studying Enchanted Conversations.

You can find out more about EC here.

Cast of Wonders

Cast of Wonders is a podcast that buys young adult speculative fiction. Not sure what speculative fiction is? That encompasses science fiction and fantasy. It is about fantastic worlds and events. As a pod cast they record your story but also make it available in print.

The pod cast began in 2011 and is considered a professional publication by both SFWA (Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America) and SCBWI (The Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators).

Before submitting to Cast of Wonders, check out their publishing schedule. They periodically close to submissions and sometimes open only to work from certain authors or fitting certain themes.

NOTE: Both of these markets pay for your work. I’ll leave it up to you to read up on them and find out how much they pay as well as what rights they purchase. No matter where you see a market mentioned, it is up to you to check them out. I will never knowingly recommend a market that requires payment to publish or is otherwise a poor, unprofessional market.


3 Tips for Spooky Settings

Some settings are naturally spooky
but you can set your spooky story anywhere.
Photo by Jack Gittoes on Pexels.com

I’ve been thinking a lot about spooky, creepy and eerie settings this week. In part, my preoccupation comes from reading an article that claimed only certain settings can be used to write spooky stories. You know – cemeteries, abandoned mansions and the like.

Stop. Just stop. That’s absolute nonsense. The spookiest, scariest book I read in 2020 was The Only Good Indian by Stephen Graham Jones. Was it set in a cemetery? Nope. Did the main character live in an abandoned mansion? Not even close. He lived in a modern ranch-style home with track lighting. This leads us to step #1.

Don’t rely on cardboard settings

A scary story can take place anywhere. I’m not going to tell you how Jones pulls it off but he isn’t the only one to use a modern setting. The house in You Should Have Left with Kevin Bacon is unforgivingly modern. Unforgivingly? That’s more a reflection on my taste than anything else. But the movie does not rely entirely on shadows and dust, dank and damp. You can set a scary story anywhere. After all it is a spooky story because . . .

Spooky things happen

What do I mean by spooky things? It depends on your story. It could be objects or even people disappearing when your POV character’s back is turned. Or they find a warning scrawled on a scrap of paper or the wall. Oh, be creative. Leave a spooky message on a banana. There are noises in the walls, flickering lights, and doors that open and close.

Careful word choice

When setting a spooky tone, an awful lot can be in the word choice. Is the light bright and cheerful? Or stark and harsh? Images in photographs can be good-humored or shadowed. It isn’t so much what objects you describe as how you describe them. A carnival glass pitcher can be oily or iridescent depending on the tone that you want to set.

Some settings will be easier to use in a scary story but I’d seriously consider erring on the side of originality. Sock monkey shop? Fairy floss stand? You decide.


3 Reasons to Read the ALA Youth Media Award Winners

American Library Association Youth Media Awards
The ALA announced the Youth Media Award winners yestereday.

Yesterday in a virtual event the American Library Association announced the winners of their annual Youth Media Awards. To select these books, committees of librarians read hundreds and thousands of books published in the past year. They champion their favorites and select an amazing list of books.

If you are writing for young readers, whether or not you publish traditionally, you should read at least some of each years winners and here is why.

A window on publishing trends

I don’t read the magazines from cover to cover but I do pay attention to Publishings Weekly, School Library Journal, The Horn Book Reader, and Kirkus. Because of these publications, I am aware of many of the trends in publishing. For exampled, books about Korea and Korean-Americans and by Korean and Korean-American authors are getting buzz this past year.

This year’s Newbery winner is When You Trap a Tiger by Tae Keller. The book draws on Korean folklore and, like Keller, the main character is biracial.

Libraries are a huge market

Another reason to read the winner and also the honor books is because libraries are a huge market. The winners and honor books are the best of the best as chosen by the librarian who do the buying each year.

These aren’t all of the books that they buy, or even all of the books that they buy for young readers, but these are the books that reflect the hearts of the book buyers. Consider why they chose what they chose and that might impact which idea you next develop into a finished manuscript.

Many types of books

The final reason to read these books is that there is such a huge variety. There are awards for the best book and the best young adult book, the best picture book and the best informational book. There is even an award for the best book in translation, a book first published overseas and then translated and published in the US.

The ALA YMA (Youth Media Awards) are a crash course in the American publishing industry and library market. Take a look at this year’s winners and see what you learn.


Why We Need White Space

Tree #5 by Myoung Ho Lee

On Martin Luther King Day, I listened as my pastor read excerpts from Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Letter from a Birmingham Jail.  I realized that I had read, and heard, excerpts but never then entire document.  I looked it up.  

I succeeded in reading two paragraphs.  I just could not force myself to read one word more.

I suspect that a large part of the problem is that the document was single-spaced on the computer screen.  Yes, there were paragraph breaks but that was the only white space for screen after screen.  The actual document is 23 pages long.

This emphasized for me the importance of white space.  If you aren’t familiar with the term, white space is where there is no print on the page.  It is where the white of the paper shows through.  In design terms, there is white space between characters, lines and paragraphs.

When there isn’t enough, a document tends to look like a dictionary page.  It is dense and intimidating.  It is tiring to read.  

White space gives your reader a break.  It makes individual words easier to read.  It keeps the reader from being overwhelmed.  It makes the text more inviting.

If you don’t understand how this happens, take a look at the image above. Myoung Ho Lee is a South Korean photographer who captures images of trees. To show them to their best advantage, he raises a backdrop of white canvas behind his subject.

The canvas marks the tree off from its environment.  It makes it more clearly visible.  It emphasizes this one tree which becomes the viewers focus.

We also use white space when we write.  How we break up paragraphs can make it easier for our readers to spot the central idea.  To follow from one point to the next.  To emphasize a point, whether it is a sentence or a phrase, we can isolate it by using returns to place it

on a line by itself.

White space is not something that only poets contemplate. When in doubt, leave a bit of space. Give your reader a spot of room

to consider,

to contemplate,

to become aware.


Second Person POV

You by Charles Benoit

One of my students recently asked what my opinion was on writing in the second person. I told her that you don’t see a lot of books written in second person (ha!  See what I did?), because it is hard to do well. Second person POV is written with “you” as the character addressed in the narrative.

Examples of books written in second person include:

  • Choose Your Own Adventure Books.
  • An epistolary book, a book written as a series of documents esp. letters or “Dear Diary.”
  • The young adult novel You by Charles Benoit.
  • The adult novel Bright Lights, Big City by Jay McInerney.
  • Books that break the fourth wall, periodically addressing the reader. The Lemony Snickett books did this. So does the picture book Snappsy the Alligator.

There are a number of reasons to write in second person. It makes the story feel immediate and pulls the reader in. This is because the reader identifies with the narrator. It feels like there is a personal relationship. Some types of books are naturally written this way. This includes self-help book or books that feel like self-help books.

But writing in second person isn’t easy. As the author, you are telling the reader what they are experiencing and/or thinking. You better hope they don’t disagree with you. It can feel gimmicky or campy. “What is the author talking right to me? Stop it!”

But it is a lot of fun when it works. Most of the things that I read on second person recommended first trying it with something short such as a short story or an essay. Picture books are short so you might give it a try with a picture book. That said, picture books are challenging to write.

I have to admit that after writing this post, I walked on the treadmill. By the time I came back to my office, I had an idea for a series of factually based picture books told in second person. Will they work? That remains to be seen.

Why don’t you give it a try?


Get to Know Your Character

There are numerous ways to get to know your character. They can write you a letter. You can contemplate what is in their backpack or even in the back of their closet. Me? I like to noodle over what they are reading. It sounds pretty simple. What types of books does your character read?

Photo by Julia M Cameron on Pexels.com
  • The teen looking for true love might read romance.
  • The kindergartner who dreams of a puppy selects books about dogs.
  • The tween who is all about facts loves to read science.

It seems pretty simple doesn’t it. That’s why we need to dig deeper. And one way to do this is to ask yourself these questions.

What does your character read on her phone/kindle?

What would she read only on-screen so that no one could see the cover? Or, if she is a serious student, this might be something light, a book her friends would consider frivolous.

What does your character keep on her bedside table? Or the bookshelf in his room?

The books in perfect condition were most likely gifts. Things your character didn’t choose and will probably never pick up. But the books within easy reach? The ones that aren’t dusty and are more than a little ragged? Those are favorites.

What books are on your character’s coffee table?

If your character is an adult, these books may be the opposite of the e-reader titles. What books does your character want to be seen by other people? A student in a dorm might have these books on the corner of their desk. Or someplace at eye-level when people enter the room.

How might reading choices be misleading?

I added this question because of a friend’s son. At a family dinner, this teen might be in the corner reading Dante’s Inferno or a book of German philosophy. But he isn’t doing it to show of. He’s beyond bright and doesn’t care what others think. What books could lead people to the wrong conclusions about your character?


Sign Up to Hone Your NF Craft


Writing nonfiction is tough. You have to research your topic, hook your reader and spin a story with a satisfying emotional arc all while sticking to the facts.

Whew! It certainly isn’t easy.

But if it is something you are interested in learning more about the Nonfiction Chicks’ blog is holding their second annual NF Fest 2021 Challenge this February.

Each day throughout the month, a nonfiction author or illustrator will share a post about factual writing. Five of the guests that they’ve invited are Candace Fleming, Melissa Stewart, Kathleen Krull, Carole Boston Weatherford, and Kate Messner. I’ve attended webinars with Messner before so I’m really looking forward to this event.

But they don’t want you to just read. They want to you practice your writing craft. Each post will include an activity related to the post. There will also be a list of 30 additional activities designed to help you hone your skills.

I have to say that I’m not always a huge writing activity fan. Some prompts work really well for me and others just leave me stratching my head. How is this going to help? Fortunately the NF Chicks are pros both in terms of writing and inspiration. I’m including the activity calendar from last year so that you can see the kinds of prompts they typically create.

To sign up:

Visit the NF Fest web site here. You can sign up any time from January 15 until the 31st.

Fill out the form on the right hand side of the page.

Once the event begins, you will need to read each post; posts can be e-mailed to you. As you read, complete 20 or more activities. Then at the end sign the pledge. Winners are eligible to receive a variety of prizes.

I’ve already signed up and hope to see some of you there!


3 Things to Remember about Your Inciting Incident

The inciting incident messes things up and launches your character into the story.
Photo by Inzmam Khan on Pexels.com

I’m posting about fiction so you’ve probably guessed I’m still working through the DIY MFA Writer Igniter challenge. Sometimes it takes time for a lesson to sink in as was the case with Inciting Incidents. An inciting incident is the point in the story where the main character is launched from their everyday life into the challenge of solving the story problem.

And this leads us to the first thing to remember about the inciting incident.

An Event + A Choice

The inciting incident combines two things – an event and a decision. The event is an incident that prompts change. It drives your character from their everyday life into something bigger. But the character must decide to engage. Sometimes it is easy to make the choice as in a character who is working to prove their own innocence. Sometimes they resist making the choice because problems at home are so much less frightening then what might be waiting for them out in the larger world.

Big Event or Slow Build

Until I took part in this challenge, I thought the inciding incident was just that – a single event. In Star Wars Luke comes home to find his family homestead burned and has no reason NOT to leave the planet. Big Event.

But Gabriela Pereira explained that sometimes the inciting incident is the final event in a slow build. PLOT SPOILER. In Plaid and Plagiarism by Molly MacRae a slow build culminates in a big event. Before she can move in, someone dumps trash in Janet’s kitchen. She starts wondering who might be mad at her. Then she is interviewed by a hostile journalist although she doesn’t understand why this person she just met would dislike her. Then the journalist is found murdered on her property. Event after event, each feels more personal than the one before.

No Return

The inciting incident also marks a point of no return. Once your character accepts the call to action, there is no turning back. Sometimes, as in Star Wars, it is because home no longer exists. Other times, as in Plaid and Plagiarism, it is because things keep building. Janet has to prove she is innocent. Or it might simply be that their world view has changed and they no longer see things in the same way.

What is the inciting incident (or call to action) in your story? In the book you are reading?


4 Musts for a Picture Book Biography and MLK Day

I’m not sure what kind of MLK Day celebrations are going on today, but we can have our own celebration here.  In light of that, I’ll share my all time favorite biography of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. with you.  Why do I love this one?  Because this story is told in his own words, but more about that later.

A picture book biography is more than just a short book with a lot of pictures. It tells about a specific person but it does so in a particular way. If you are considering a picture book biography, remember that your book has to have these 4 elements. 


Very few picture book biographies tell of the person’s life from birth to grave.  That is just too much for a 36 page picture book. Instead, they tell a story.  In this book, the author tells the story of his life using quotes from his speeches.


The person you are writing about is a real person, but, within the bounds of your story, they are a character.  Even if it is someone famous like MLK, you have to assume that your reader does not know THIS character, the one that walks THIS story.  Even a famous person must be introduced to the reader.


When creating nonfiction dialogue you have to cite sources.  Where and when did he speak these words?  Nothing that you put within quotation marks can be made up. It all has to be something he said or wrote.

Kid friendly

Even if you don’t depict this person as a child, your story and character must have kid appeal.  Why would a young reader want to sit through this book?  What about it pulls the reader in?

Keep these traits in mind as you play  with your manuscript and you will have a piece that hangs together and pulls the young reader in.