One Writer’s Journey

February 18, 2019

President’s Day

cuban missile crisisHappy President’s Day!

Have you ever written anything about one of our Presidents?  One of my books, 12 Incredible Facts about the Cuban Missile Crisis, touches on Kennedy’s Presidency.  I say touches on because there was so much that he did in such a short period of time.  This is just a small part of it.

I would also love to write a series on America’s First Ladies.  I think it would make a great group of early readers.

There are some great children’s books out there about our Presidents. Why not pick one of them up?  In addition to my book, here are a few suggestions.


  • The Many Faces of George Washington by Carla Killough McClafferty shows us why we need current source materials to show the latest and greatest information that is available about these and other people.
  • What To Do About Alice by Barbara Kerley isn’t exactly about Teddy Roosevelt but it does give you a good idea what it was like to grow up in the Roosevelt household.
  • The House that George Built by Suzanne Slade gives us an inside look at building the White House and laying down the ground work for future presidents and it is done in a House That Jack Built rhyme.
  • You’re On Your Way Teddy Roosevelt by Judith St. George has always been a favorite because it introduces us to a side of this rough and tumble President that few people today remember.

If you have a favorite I didn’t include, be sure to tell the rest of us in the comments below.



February 15, 2019

Loving What You Do: Taking Time to Learn

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:11 am
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For me, a big part of loving what I do is taking the time to learn. Sometimes this means sitting down with a new-to-me how-to title.  Page by page, I learn about voice, bringing emotion into my writing, or scripting a graphic novel.  Other times learning something new means taking the time for a conference or workshop.

I took my son’s senior year of high school off, not signing up for any events that required travel.  As I eased back in, I noticed something – I was really having a hard time finding events that really excited me.  Sure, they sounded good but I wasn’t learning as much as I wanted to.  The problem was that I was treading familiar ground.

Then, by chance, I signed up for a Library Journal event.  It was online and it was free.  Whatever.  Nothing to lose.

Sometimes you really do get more than your money’s worth.  I think it was the fact that it was organized by people with a libraries focus.  Yes, everyone spoke on books.  Many spoke on writing.  But the slant was just different enough to feel fresh, new and exciting. The good news is that School Library Journal has another event coming up in March.  Okay, I looked it up.  It is on March 27, 2019.

Middle Grade Magic is all about middle grade literature and it is FREE.  I’ve already signed up and, if they would let me, I’d sign up again now that the full schedule is up.

10:00 AM | Booths Open

11:00–11:30 AM | Opening Keynote: Lynda Mullaly Hunt (Penguin/Nancy Paulsen Bks.)

11:30 AM–12:15 PM | Panel 1: Make ‘Em Laugh: Funny Reads
Georgia Dunn, Breaking Cats News and Lupin Leaps In (Andrews McMeel)
Lamar Giles, The Last Last-Day-of-Summer (HMH/Versify)
Kelly Jones, Are You Ready to Hatch an Unusual Chicken? (Knopf)
Geoff Rodkey, We’re Not From Here (Crown)
Moderated by Marybeth Kozikowski, Sachem Public Library, Holbrook, NY

12:30–1:00 PM | Lunch Keynote with Kekla Magoon (Random/Wendy Lamb Bks.)
Sue here: If you’ve paid any attention to middle grade, you’ve seen Magoon’s name. She has three Coretta Scott King Honors and has been on the National Book Award Long List. The Season of Styx Malone was named an SLJ Best Book of 2018.

1:00–1:45 PM | Panel 2: Exploring “Tough Topics” in Fiction
Tony AbbottThe Great Jeff (Little, Brown)
Veera HiranandaniThe Night Diary (Penguin/Kokila)
Mae RespicioThe House That Lou Built (Random/Wendy Lamb Bks.)
Kate MessnerBreakout (Bloomsbury)
Sue here: I loved Breakout so I’m really jazzed at the opportunity to hear Messner speak.

1:45–2:30 PM | Panel 3: Graphic Narratives
Don BrownRocket to the Moon (Abrams)
Shannon HaleBest Friends (First Second)
Dylan MeconisQueen of the Sea (Candlewick)
Mai K. NguyenPilu of the Woods (Oni Press)
Brenna ThummlerSheets (Lion Forge)
Moderated by Mahnaz DarSLJ Graphic Novel Editor
Sue here: Shannon Hale and Brenna Thummler!  Sheets is currently in my to-be-read stack from the library.

2:45–3:30 PM | Panel 4: Fantastic Worlds, Incredible Journeys
Alane AdamsThe Blue Witch (Sparkpoint Studio)
David BowlesThe Unicorn Rescue Society: The Chupacabras of the Rio Grande (Dutton)
Carlos HernandezSal and Gabi Break the Universe (Disney)
Kim LongLexi Magill and the Teleportation Tournament (Running Pr.)
Allison MillsThe Ghost Catcher (Annick)
Moderated by Ashleigh WilliamsSLJ Assistant Editor, Middle Grade

3:30–4:00 PM | Closing Keynote: Ali BenjaminThe Next Great Paulie Fink(Little, Brown)

Continuing to learn is a must if you are going to grow as a writer and continue to love what you do.  If you want to take advantage of this particular opportunity, you can find out more here.


February 14, 2019

Loving What You Do: Feeding the Creativity

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 4:34 am
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Creative endeavors like writing take a lot of energy.  Buckets full of energy. To renew my energy, I do other creative things that aren’t writing.

Sometimes I cook.  And when I say cook, I mean bake.  Somehow, as much as I love a good salad, it just doesn’t rev me up to make one.  When I want to renew my creativity, I make bread, biscuits and crisps (as in apple crisp).  The bread is yeast bread so I get to spend some time kneading and shaping the loaves.  Sometimes I make main dish items. I’m hoping to work in a lasagna some time in the next few weeks.

I also like to knit and crochet. Watching a ball of yarn turn into something else is just a marvelous, magical feeling. There’s also something about doing this type of hand work that is soothing especially when I’m into a repetitive pattern. This is the beginning of an infinity scarf. I’m maybe 20% of the way around. I won’t be done any time soon because this stitch is super slow but that’s part of what gives it such loft.  That seems to be a knitting term for light and airy.  I also love watching the color change in the yarn.

Last but not least, I’ll lose myself in redoing something around the house.  House jobs tend to be a bit less creative and take more energy, but it’s really recharges me to somehow improve my living space.  Sometimes I clean something out and re-organize to make an area more livable. Other times I paint.  Some painting jobs are an instant success – the dining room was one of those.  Others take a while to grow on me.  That was the case with this green back door.  The swatch looked less intense.

What things do you do when you need to recharge?  I hope you have something because it is so much easier to love what I do when I have the energy required to do it well.


February 13, 2019

Loving What You Do: A Strong Support System Helps

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 4:57 am
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Writing is, as we know, a lot of work. Everything we submit has to be written and rewritten and rewritten some more.  In my own experience, it is easiest to love what we do when we have a support network.

One of the most essential parts of this network is a group of fellow writers.  For many of us that is a critique group, writers who will read our work and help us make it better.  Last year, I also discovered the beauty of an accountability group.  I don’t know how other groups of this kind function but mine does do some critiquing.  We also post goals and cheer each other on.  We give advice and hold each others hands. It’s pretty amazing.

The online writing community.  If you are reading this, you are probably aware of the community of writers to be found online.  This is how my accountability group “knows” each other.  We don’t even all live on the same continent although two of us are within a few miles of each other.  It’s great to be able to reach across the miles and connect with someone who knows what you are experiencing.

It is also pretty amazing to have friends and family who support you as a writer.  Today, I have an outline and first chapter due.  My husband cooked dinner last night, making pancake batter and flipping them on my favorite cast iron griddle.  He’d already put in a full day at his desk job but he knew I had half a book to outline.  He also helped me brainstorm sidebar ideas.

Last but not least, it is great to have fans.  While I’d like to think there are numerous young readers who love my work, there’s one that I hear from regularly.  A friend’s daughter, I’ve known her since she was a toddler.  She has latched onto my Evolution books and sends me periodic notes.  “I’m reading this part now. I love animals!” It’s great to know someone is actively reading my work.

I hope you are lucky enough to have a people who get you and what you do!



February 12, 2019

Loving What You Do: Loving What You Write

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 3:14 am
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Don’t write something just for the money.  We hear this advice but most of us don’t fully understand it until we attempt to do it.

Way back in the long ago, I worked for a group that created content for reading labs.  We would take a passage written for 9th graders and then rewrite it at a 6th grade level, a 4th grade level, all the way down to first grade.  I assume that there are people who actually enjoy this type of writing.  Me? I’m not that person.

When Red Line contacted me and offered me a book about an Ancient Civilization, you would have thought I was a 6 year-old on Christmas morning.  I have degrees in anthropology and history.  I put myself through college creating archaeology illustrations – maps, diagrams, artifact drawings and more. This was perfect.  I got to read history and archaeology.  I discussed geography and geology and chemistry.  And, best of all, they paid me.

It was a ton of work but it was so much fun.  For me, it is like all the best parts of school.  History.  Science.  Social studies.  I even managed to work in math when I tackled the Mayan’s number system.  So exciting.

Now I’m guessing that you can tell the difference when I write about the job I disliked and the job I loved.  Fortunately for me, I’m interested in a lot of things including history, science and current events.  So writing educational nonfiction is perfect for me.

Write what you love.  Love what you write.  Otherwise, you’re going to burn out.

Does this mean that you are going to discover the right thing for you immediately?  Probably not.  A lot of people tell you to write what you like to read.  Hmm. That would mean I should write sf/f or mysteries.  I am trying but nonfiction? I think that will always be my sweet spot.


February 11, 2019

Loving What You Do: Reading Great Books

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:46 am
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Since this is Valentines week, I’ll be writing a series of posts about loving what you do, how to keep your writing energy high and your enthusiasm up.  Because, let’s face it, being creative takes a lot of energy.

One of the most important things you should do is read.

Read the types of books you want to write.  These books will show you what has already been written.  From them you will also see how writers create three-dimensional characters, exciting plots, living settings and more.  For me, this means reading good nonfiction. One of my favorite nonfiction titles in 2018 was Chester Nez and the Unbreakable CodeA Navajo Code Talker’s Story by Joseph Bruchac, pictures by Liz Amini-Holmes (Albert Whitman and Company).  It tells his childhood, his life at the Indian schools, being trained for the military, and how his culture helped him survive the horrors of the war and the memories after.

Read books you love.  I will  never write an “own voices” story as a marginalized author.  It’s just not in the cards.  But I love many of these books and reading books you love fuels your enthusiasm for books and for writing.  Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi (Henry Holt) was one of those books for me.  I can’t write an authentic African experience, but I can appreciate a fiery female protagonist who has to overcome her own insecurities to fully be herself.  And I can write that kind of character even if she will occupy a complete different type of story.

Read widely.  Read books that were popular when you were a child, the books that encouraged you to love reading.  But also read what is popular today, because unless you are a teen the chances are that things have changed between then and now.

But read.  When a rewrite is being unbearable, briefly shelter in a great book.  Remind yourself just how much you love to read.  It makes the agony of writing worthwhile.


February 8, 2019

Freelance Essentials: Flexible Scheduling

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:06 am
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On Wednesday, I took a series proposal to my critique group.  Got some really helpful feedback.

Thursday morning I spent some time noodling over what changes to make.  Glance over the lesson I need to update and convert to a PDF.  Remember I’m teaching Sunday and need to reread that lesson.

11:30 am E-mail from my editor.

1:00 pm Second e-mail from editor.  New two book contact.  Deadline dead ahead!

I have to be honest.  I don’t know how you would do this job, and make money at it, if you also had a day job or an otherwise inflexible schedule.  Yes, I have family responsibilities.  And I teach Sunday school and am otherwise busy at church.  But when a job comes along, I can generally massage my schedule and work things in which is vital on days like today.

2/13.  Chapter, outline and bibliography due

3/8.  Book due.

3/18.  Chapter, outline and bibliography due

4/12.  Book due.

And somewhere not long after all of that, I will be rewriting both books.

It isn’t that your schedule has to be wide open to do this job but you do have to be willing to rearrange things.  If that stresses you out or makes you panic, this may not be the best job for you.

Given my Type-A tendencies, this is why writing about a topic I love is essential.  I need that giddy excitement to distract me from the fact that plans are changing.

I’ve actually taken a few contracts that didn’t thrill me.  Those deadlines were harder to meet and I resented having to reorganize my days to fit the work in.

This contract?  I forced myself to get some other things done Thursday before I got to work on Book #1 Friday.  This is part of the lore and legend of my family.  I come from a long line of Southern story tellers and I am ready to go!


February 7, 2019

Author’s Copies: Going to the Dogs

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:39 am
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Look at what I found on the bench Tuesday?  Another pair of author’s copies.

Labradoodle and Puggle are both part of the Top Hybrid Dog series from Capstone. Whenever possible, I like to get two books in the same series especially if it is a new-to-me publisher or a tried-and-true publisher but a new series.

Two books mean that I figure out the standards and format for the series one time and then get to apply it twice.  These particular books were a lower reading level than I am used to writing which also meant that they were shorter.  While I’m used to including sidebars in a chapter, I also had to include fact boxes – a brief, interesting fact that didn’t appear in the main text.

I also didn’t anticipate just how difficult these books would be to research.  Fans of each hybrid tend to focus on the pluses – smart, high energy, fun, curly coat.  People who want you to buy a pure bred often focus on the negatives – smart = easily bored and thus destructive, high energy = needs a lot of exercise, curly coat = brushing required as well as trips to the groomer.  The books had to be upbeat which made it hard to write about potential health problems although knowing about these problems are an essential part of researching any dog, purebred or hybrid.

I’m not ready to quit writing younger books – these are for readers in grades 3 to 4.  But I have to admit that writing at a 7th to 8th grade level is definitely my sweet spot.  I can write either higher or lower but it takes a lot more thought as I rough it out and tinkering to reach the desired reading level.

The series that I’m getting ready to pitch is for this reading level. Maybe the dog books were good practice because it doesn’t seem as difficult as it was the first time.  You know what they say – practice makes perfect.


February 6, 2019

Dig Deep: Writing for the Kid You Were

My first grade class. I’m in the middle row, third from the end.

When you choose writing projects, do you think about the kid you were and what fascinated you?  I have to admit that when I’ve remembered to do this it has paid off.

I was a horse crazy kid.  Horse.  Crazy.  I didn’t have one and no amount of begging was going to get me lessons but if there was a horse in the vicinity that’s where I was.  I learned to ride from a family friend on a Tennessee Walker that was so big I couldn’t dream of reaching the stirrups.

What does this have to do with my writing life? My first regular gig was with Young Equestrian Magazine. When the editor put out a call for manuscripts, I sent her a query for a bio of Marguerite Henry.  Like every horse-mad girl, I had read all of Henry’s books.  I got the gig.

My grandad taught me to fossil hunt.  With him, I’d walk West Texas trails flipping rocks with the toe of my shoe.  He taught me to never grab a rock with my hand.  Rocks provide shade for desert reptiles.  I collected a wide variety of crinoids fossils and learned to observe animals and how they adapted to the high desert.

These enthusiasms led to The Evolution of Reptiles and The Evolution of Mammals.  But this tendency to question and observe also made nonfiction in general a natural fit.  From his childhood in the South, I learned to question authority.  If they said X, I knew there had to be a reason, someone who was served by believing this.  I’d have to gather the facts and make up my own damn mind. That’s more or less a direct quote.

What were the things you loved as a child?  Plants?  Animals?  Pretend play?  Chances are that any and all of the things you loved still draw children in today.  Write for the child you were.


February 5, 2019

What Is Given from the Heart

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:37 am
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I have to admit, I’ve never understood it when fans go nuts over a posthumous release of a song or book.  Yes, its nice to have one more piece of work to experience.  I get that.  But what’s the fuss?

Then Monday a book cover on Twitter caught my eye.  When I saw that the author is Pat McKissack I almost fumbled clicking through to read the Horn Book review.

Unlike many people who write for children, I didn’t come into this through teaching or working as a librarian.  My BA is in anthropology, my MA in history.  I earned my second degree because I wanted to learn to research so that I could be a better writer.  But I didn’t study writing in college.

Between degrees, I got married.  I worked days.  My husband worked nights.  When I spotted a continuing ed class taught by Pat McKissack on writing for children it seemed like a pretty good idea.  I had no idea who she was or that she was a name in the field.  Yes, I was that green.

I started writing for children in this class and I haven’t stopped.  Recently I found one of my stories and reread it.  Oh, no.  Really?  I showed that to Pat McKissack?

It was, simply put, dreadful.

Pat looked past what I had managed to get down.  She looked for what the story could be.  And she encouraged us all to read, to stretch, and to keep writing.  Our work was so different but I always remembered what she taught me.  Even when you write from life, you have to change it to make a good story.  Then you’ll have to change it some more because your editor will spot the places where you didn’t communicate clearly or something you said might mislead the reader.  If Pat needed an editor to make her work sing, it seemed only logical that I too would have to make changes.

When she died in April 2017, we hadn’t been in touch for some time.  But I remember thinking, no more books.  There will be no more books.

Then I saw this one.

And now?  Now I get it.


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