Indie Bookstore Day is 4/29

For those of you unfamiliar with this term, an independent or indie bookstore is a bookstore that is independently owned. It is a small business. I always feels like I’m preaching to the choir when I post about indie bookstores but then I discover that there are writers who don’t support their local indies. They do all of their shopping at Amazon.

Let that sink in.

Now I’m not going to say that I never shop at Amazon. I always have a peculiar variety of things in my cart. Most recently it has held orchid pots, chipboard, book binding glue, and a book. No, I don’t plan to buy it there if I can get it at one of my local indies. My Amazon cart may as well be labeled “things Sue doesn’t want to forget.”

But back to indies. The photo at top is from my absolute favorite indie – Front Street Books in Alpine, Texas. From my front door, it is a 16 hour drive. Sigh. But I still love it. Please forgive the glare. I took that in May. There’s a lot of sun in the high desert but this shop is an oasis of books, coffee and other treats.

The great thing about indie bookstores is that they are staffed by book lovers. Shop at an indie and you will find new-to-you authors and a sense of community. You won’t get the deal you’d get on Amazon but the author will receive a larger royalty and a local business owner will earn a living.

I also love that some indies offer really interesting services. At Shakespeare and Co in Manhattan, a special printer can print and bind a book, including a full color cover, in minutes if the book is not in stock.

I live in the St. Louis area.  My indies include Half Price Books, Subterranean Books, Left Bank Books, and Main Street Books.

Not sure how to find an independent bookstore? Type your zip code into the Indie Bookstore Finder at Indie Bound ( and you’ll get a list of the closest stores.


Project Playlists Aren’t for Me

So many of my writing friends have project playlists, special music that they listen to while they work on a specific manuscript. I almost never listen to music while I write. The problem is that I will try to sing along with virtually anything.

Now, don’t get me wrong. Sometimes I need to listen to music because I need to drowned something out. And no white noise doesn’t work for me. Perhaps because I have tinnitus, I find white noise irritating. When I need to listen to something I generally pick some sort of flute music or something classical. But, it can’t be too interesting. If it is, I’ll stop and listen to it. After all, I love music!

This means that I may have a play list that I listen to when I’m not writing. I may also listen to music before I start working on a project.

I listened to a lot of music by The Who before I started writing my book on that talented group of musicians. And while doing the prewriting work for my cozy, I listened to a lot of music from the late 1960s. I love the music of this era including The Who, The Rolling Stones, and the Doors. But I wanted my characters to love their own music. So I listened to music that was popular then that we may not remember now, and I picked out favorites for my main character and her husband why happens to be one of the suspects.

And while I may not listen to music very often while I write, that doesn’t mean that I don’t listen while I do other work related tasks. When I photo edit or do other graphic work, I’ll listen to rock-n-roll or rockabilly. And, yes, I frequently sing along. My husband and I share an office and, fortunately, he finds it much easier to focus than I do.

Do you listen to music while you write?



Freebie: Reading BINGO

We are just getting ready to eat a late dinner tonight and I’ve finally finished the freebie for April – a Reading Bingo card. Sometimes I wonder if I make things needlessly complicated. Here is a look at my Reading BINGO card. You can download an 8 1/2 x 11 version here.

I looked at a lot of BINGO cards online. A lot of them have things like “read under a tree,” “read in your pajamas,” “read in your parent’s bed,” “read with your brother or sister.” Maybe it is just because of all of the social justice work that I’ve done, but these seemed like the kinds of “options” that would lock out certain young people. A lot of children don’t live with their parents. They don’t have siblings. They may not live in neighborhoods where they can sit outside and read.

That doesn’t even include the ones that include, “have your mom take you to the library.” Again, what if mom works? What if Mom is anti-library? Seriously, how many ways can you put the young reader on the defensive.

And all of that came up before I got into the actual reading. Most BINGO cards assume that the young reader will be reading books. What is they prefer articles? Children’s educational sites? The LEGO site?

All of this when into my decision to make a reading BINGO challenge vs a book BINGO challenge. And then I still had to fill in the squares and come up with some decorative elements.

Suffice it to say that this took all afternoon and part of the evening. But I’m glad I put this kind of effort into it. My son hated reading in school. It about broke my heart but he always had someone telling him that LEGO Magazine didn’t count, he had to read fiction not nonfiction, etc.

After I roughed out my BINGO card, I asked his opinion. He made a few minor suggestions then he nodded. “I could have actually accomplished this. Thanks.”

Naturally I had to bake him brownies.


Surprise! Twist Endings Add Depth

Picture books and early readers quite seem so simple and Go, Sled! Go! is no exception. If I’m not mistaken, the text is all of 87 words long. 87! As with other picture books and early readers, there are no subplots.

To justify the price of a hardcover children’s book, you have to create something that the adult reader and child will come back to again and again. One way to do that is with a twist ending.


The main character launches his sled ride, calling out “Go, sled! Go!” And he picks up speed as he careens down hil. He yells at other characters to get out of the way, but despite his warning he scoops up a mouse, a bunny, a snowman, a penguin, and a baker. The only character that seems excited by the out-of-control sled ride is a little red fox that chases along behind.

Then the sled approaches a stop sign at a drop off. The sled drops off the edge and they end up doing a loop-the-loop and then flying off into the air. One by one, each character plops into the snow.

Back inside, everyone is cozied up with hot chocolate. Ah, warmth. It seems like a quiet way to end the story but then the sledder looks around and asks who wans to go again. Everyone yells no!

At the end of the story, the sledder and the fox are making another run. That’s when you realize the perilous journey was more-or-less intentional! And that is twist. But it is enough to make you page through the story again looking for clues that hint at the ending.


What a great way to keep your readers coming back. Lead them to believe one, in this case using the illustrations and apparent subtext, and then surprise them with something else entirely. When they go back through the story, they realize that they made assumptions.

And Yang pulled it off in less than 100 words. This doesn’t mean that you have to write a picture book that is this short, but it is a great lesson in what can be done with very few words. You just need to make each one count.


Bad Drawer: Creating as a Group Endeavor

Admittedly, when I first saw the title The Bad Drawer my brain went to dresser drawers. But Seth Fishman’s picture book is about a young writer who laments their inability to draw. Get it? Bad draw-er.

In Fishman’s story, the narrator has an adventure story in their head about a mouse, Bailey, and dragons with wands, and a catbird. But there’s a problem.

The only thing our narrator can draw are pine trees. Sound familiar?

As the narrator laments their own limitations, they tell about their friends. One can draw dragons, Another is great at scenery. Another letters like a pro.

I have to admit that half of the reason that I love this book is that Fishman calls out the many talented people whose art went into the finished product. They even share their names with the characters in the story. Jessica Hische is an illustrator and letterer. In the story, Jessica can create museum quality lettering – what an enviable talent!

Since we are writers, the story proceeds in a fairly predictable way as the narrator realizes that they can all work together to create something amazing. I say fairly predictable. But is it?

This is a story about a group project at its finest. Yet I often hear writers talking about their editors and anyone who asks for a change as the enemy. In Fishman’s story, they would be the dragons with wands. And yet.

When a team comes together we can create something amazing. That said, we all need to be reminded of this when we are faced with 5,692 comments from our editor who has asked for revisions. It is tempting to see said editor as the dragon when in reality they are a skilled individual who, like you, wants your story to be amazing.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got about 689 changes to finish making to my manuscript. I know it will be better in the end. While I’m working on that, check out Bad Drawer.


Rejection: What It Is and Is Not

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio on

Before I got down to work yesterday, I was reading blog posts on the nonfiction blog for the journal Brevity. One on rejection really stood out – Rejection is (Still) Not Feedback.

How often have you heard a fellow writer say one of these things or said them yourself?

  • I wonder what they didn’t like about my work?
  • Why couldn’t they take 30 seconds to tell me why?
  • What does it mean when they say ‘this isn’t right for our list?’
  • Why didn’t it click with her/him/them?

When you submit a piece to a publisher, a magazine or an agent, you are vying to begin a business relationship. That’s all. This isn’t about sending your manuscript in for evaluation. Sure there are quality reasons to reject a manuscript but there are so many other reasons that a piece can be rejected. Here are just a few.

  • The agent has no connections with a house that would publish this type of writing.
  • The editor just bought a piece much like this but you wouldn’t no it because it isn’t yet out.
  • The agent has another client who creates picture book biographies/memoir set in the 1980s/fill-in-the-blank and your work would directly compete with this person’s work.
  • The piece doesn’t fit into an open slot.
  • The company’s mission is shifting and this is a better fit for the old vs the new.

None of these reasons that a piece might be rejected are about quality. That isn’t to say that your piece is perfect. It might have been rejected because your voice is inconsistent or you used dated sources. But that’s why you have a critique group. Or you could pay an editor or book doctor to review it.

You do need to do your homework before you submit your writing. But even if you’ve submitted someplace that looks like a good fit from the outside, it may not look like as good a fit from the inside.

As writers there are things we can control and things we cannot. Work on what you can. Then you need to send it out and let go. It isn’t always easy but if you can do it, you’ll keep sending out your work which is the only way it will eventually stick.


The Zombie Test or Author vs Passive Voice

“Editors don’t like passive voice.”

I absolutely dread statements like this. Because they’re true but a lot of people are really bad at recognizing passive voice. Hint: Passive voice is more than using is, are, or was.

In active voice, the subject does something to the object. “Bob painted the house.” Active.

In passive voice, the house would be the subject of the sentence. “The house was painted by Bob.” The house isn’t doing anything. It’s just sitting there while Bob does the painting.

Sadly, a lot of people don’t get the finer points of this. They think that every to be verb indicates passive voice. They look for the word “by” in a sentence and think they’ve found a no-no.


My favorite tool for detecting passive voice is the Zombie Test. Take a moment to watch the Youtube video above.

Author Richie Billings is working on a passive voice checker. You can check it out here. Remember that this is a work in progress. Paste in your text and hit “highlight.” It will then highlight questionable construction. Note, this is pretty basic. In the first sentence in this paragraph, it highlighted Author Richie Billings is working. Then you click on “convert” for an active sentence. Fortunately, the checker didn’t try to revise that phrase.

But when I tried out “Yesterday I stumbled across a blog post by Savannah Gilbo,” the program was fooled by the word by. Just to see what would happen, I clicked on “convert” and got “Savanna Gilbo stumbled across a blog post.” Strictly speaking, I’m pretty sure she knew it was there, but you know what they say, don’t fix it if it ain’t broken.

I’m not claiming that I never use passive voice. It definitely happens. Generally when I saw something was invented by someone. Or discovered by someone.

Take the time to play around with Richie’s passive voice checker. Employ the zombie test. They can both help you ferret out passive voice.


Writing Fiction that’s Real

Not long ago my book club read an adult novel with a drug dealer as the main character. Okay, not a dealer. Trafficker? Someone else was in charge of sales. He was in transportation.

One other woman and I had serious problems with the book. I have a cousin who is in recovery. She divorced an abusive addict. Reading about this guys’ money and glamor and whoop-dee-do lifestyle just didn’t work for either of us.

Sure, it eventually came crashing down for him but the book lacked emotional resonance and honesty. Then I picked up All My Rage by Sabaa Tahir.

The cover blurb by Jodie Picoult says something about finishing the book in one day. I didn’t because I couldn’t. I had to set the book aside because . . .

Okay, I should tell you — PLOT SPOILER IN THIS PARAGRAPH. When Salahudin starts dealing in an attempt to save the family business, I was so conflicted. How could I want him to succeed. He was dealing! And then he and Noor were arrested and . . . oh, this is getting bad. I adored them both and just couldn’t bear what was too come.

And it was bad because it was real. But it wasn’t without hope. In fact, the ending was remarkably hopeful but again it was oh so real.

There is a reason that books like this win awards. Of course, it is also books like this that tend to get banned. Reality scares some people silly. But the emotional honesty in a book like this is what is going to feed the soul of the young reader who picks it up.

When I finished this yesterday morning, I should have been working on my own revision. Instead, I was sitting in a corner sniffling as two young characters struggled to reassemble their lives in a way that empowered them both.

This book was amazing. It is the one I wish our book club had read.



National Library Week

Did you know that April 23rd – 29th is National Library Week? There are so many ways to celebrate.

  • Visit your library. I visit my library most weeks to pick up books and movies. My library is also where I get audio books. Although those I don’t pick up because they are e-audio books.
  • Explore ebooks. I’ve been having to refresh my e-book knowledge because my library system is switching from Overdrive to Libby. I have to admit that I’ve avoided Libby because it doesn’t feel intuitive and things are hard to find. But Overdrive is going away so I’ve been figuring things out. At the moment, I have 4 books checked out (2 print and 2 audio), 44 holds, and 129 books on my wish list. What’s my wish list? Things to check out in the future. I never check out more than 2 audio books at a time so if a book is available but I have 2 books checked out, onto the wish list it goes. What can I say? I read 2+ book each week.
  • Check the various e-learning opportunities. There are so many e-learning opportunities available through most library systems. My current love is Creative Bug. This year, I already took a drawing class and am getting ready to take a sashiko (Japanese embroidery class). Other possibilities include Gale Udemy with business and computing classes, Mango foreign language learning and more.
  • Help your library. This would also be a great time to do what you can to help your library. My state legislature is working on their budget for next year. For some reason, one party has decided that we should defund our libraries. Me? I’m going to figure out who to contact to encourage them to work against this.

How are you going to celebrate your library system this week?