One Writer’s Journey

April 20, 2018

Crystal Kite: Time to Vote on Round 2

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 3:52 am

Hi Everyone.  I hope you’ll forgive the super-short post today but I have a book due and everyone in the household has been sick.  Everyone.  We are on the mend but I’ve got to finish proofing my manuscript.

It is time to cast your 2nd Round vote for the Crystal Kite award. If you are an SCBWI member, the Crystal Kites are voted on by your peers, fellow authors and illustrators.  There is an award for each of the 15 SCBWI regional divisions worldwide. Round 2 voting ends April 30.

  1. To vote, go to the SCBWI site and log in.  You have to be logged in so this step is important.
  2. Click “My Home” at the top right corner of your screen.
  3. Scroll to the bottom of the left hand menu and click on “Vote in the Crystal Kite Awards.”
  4. This will automatically take you to the correct region.  I’m in Kansas-Missouri which is part of the Mid-South.  You can scroll down the page and click on “More Info” to find out additional information on any given book.  You can sort the books by Title, Author Name, or Illustrator Name.
  5. Once you have decided which book you want to vote for, click on the “Vote For This Book” button for the book you have chosen.  You will be asked to confirm your vote.

That’s all there is to it.   Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go decide which book to vote for and it is not going to be easy.



April 19, 2018

Writing Nonfiction: What to do when you’re stumped

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 2:16 am
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Recently someone asked me how much research I do for a book.  Really, it all depends on the topic.  My current book, which I can’t discuss in detail just yet, is STEM title.  I have 142 sources but part of chapter 2 has been giving me a hard time.  The topic is full of medical jargon and I thought I had figured it out, but my husband wasn’t sold.  He’s my first reader and the paragraph just didn’t hold together.

So today I called a friend.  He’s not a writer but he is a nurse.  He’s my go-to source for all things medical.

Diet and nutrition?  One of the women at our church writes and tests recipes for the cooking show sponsored by a local grocery store.

Economics?  My husband has a degree in finance and is a cost analyst.

Engineering?  It depends on the type.  For some things I go to an electrical engineer who was friends with my dad.  Aeronautic?  My brother-in-law.  Chemical?  My son.

If I don’t know anyone who specializes in whatever is confusing me, I start looking for museums, state parks and universities.  I’ve contacted biologists, geologists and more. I even contacted someone who was quoted in an article I used as a source.  “This is what you are quoted as saying.  What did you mean by this part right here?”  When I explain that I am a children’s writer, people are generally willing to help.

When I go to someone for help, I always have my specific questions ready, but I also discuss what I think I know with them.  That way they can tell me if I have something wrong.  Today I actually read part of a source.  “Can you explain this to me?”

You can’t write about something if you don’t understand it.  Be willing to approach someone and ask for help.  So many people will share what they know if it means they have the opportunity to educate young learners.


April 18, 2018

Reading Without Walls

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 4:40 am
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I can’t believe that the month is half over and I just realized it is time for the second annual Reading Without Walls.  For those of you who are unfamiliar with this program, author Gene Luen Yang challenges young readers, educators, librarians and booksellers to read beyond their comfort zone.  This can mean several things.

  • Read a book about a character who doesn’t look or live like you.  This one could be interpreted in so many different ways.  Read a book about a character who lives in another culture.  For someone who lives in a big city, it could mean reading about someone who lives in a rural setting. Religion, sexual orientation, geography, class and ability can all play a part in diversity. Recently I’ve read The Prince and the Dressmaker by Jen Wang and Wonder by R.J. Palacio.
  • Read a book about a topic you don’t know much about.  Personally, I tend to interpret this as a plea to read nonfiction about a new topic.  At the moment I’m listening to the audiobook The Woman Who Smashed Codes: A True Story of Love, Spies, and the Unlikely Heroine Who Outwitted America’s Enemies by Jason Fagone and I read Wooly by Ben Mezrick.  Maybe you could pick up a STEM book or a book about history.
  • Read a book in a format that you don’t normally read for fun. For me, this one is kind of tough because I read so widely.  I do not read e-books for fun because I use them in my research.  But I listen to a lot of audiobooks and read print books for fun.  Every now and again I push myself to read a graphic novel.  It just isn’t a form that I adore but every once in a while someone describes one that sounds interesting.  I really liked Hereville: How Mirka Got Her Sword by Barry Deutsch.  Novels in verse are another good choice.

I hope you will take the opportunity to participate.  There are so many great books out there although we might need a bit of a nudge to pick up some of them.



April 17, 2018

The Agent Search: Wait for a Good Match

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 2:54 am
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SCBWI members have through this month to submit their work to Alexandra Penfold, an agent at Upstart Crow.  So I’ve read up on Penfold and I love so much about her.

  • She represents fiction and nonfiction.
  • She’s an agent and an author.
  • She represents picture book authors as well as people who write children’s novels.
  • She’s an editorial agent.

Cool, cool, cool!   So I logged onto my library’s catalogue and started requesting books.  I requested four that she wrote and three that she repped.

First I read the books that she wrote.  She’s a picture book author so I could do this in one sitting, especially since only three had come in. They were all really sweet.  Maybe that’s not the word she would use, but that would be my one word description.

The fourth book she’d written came in and so did the three she repped so I sat down to read again.  These were less sweet but still very “awww!”  Again, this isn’t a judgment call.  Just a description.

But the problem is that absolutely nothing that I’ve written could be described as sweet.  Clever, yes.  Surprising, yes.  But not sweet.

As much as I like her books, I just don’t think we’re a good match.  But still I’ve been tempted to send her my work.  I really want an agent.

Fortunately, I met to agents that I think would be a good match at the KS-MO SCBWI Agent Day.  One of them even recommended another agent for my work, someone she thinks would be a good match.  So that gives me three agents to approach.

And that might be why I have the guts to pass on Penfold.  We just have different sensibilities. I want an agent who gets my work, really gets it.

Still, I really liked what I saw of Penfold. She’s a top-notch agent so if your work is sweet or touching and you’re a SCBWI member read some of what she’s written.  Read what she’s repped.  See if she’s the right match for you.



April 16, 2018

Theme: Telling a story to get your message across

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 2:52 am
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I love it when I’m sitting reading a stack of books from the library and I come across one that does something especially well.  Recently, I read Liz Wong’s Quackers.  It is all about a cat who loves life down at the pond with the other ducks.  Well, except for maybe the water.  And eating duck weed.  But other than that he loves being a duck.  Then along comes one of the barn cats who can’t believe that Quackers thinks he is a duck.  The other cat takes Quackers up to the barn.  Quackers loves life up at the barn.  He loves being a cat.  Except for having to lick himself clean.  But eventually he misses the ducks.  Soon he figures out that he can be both a duck and a cat.

Clearly this is a story about being different but still belonging.  But the really awesome part? Wong absolutely never says that.  Not one tine.  All Wong does is tell her story about Quackers the feline duck. It is brilliant.  Why?  Because she gets her message across without ever coming out and stating it.

Instead, she’s created a great character.  Quackers loves experiencing different things.  No matter where he is, he throws himself into life, enjoying the experience even when he doesn’t actually love every last thing about it.

She’s also created a great setting.  You have a pond full of ducks who are perfectly happy to accept and love Quackers.  And you have a barn full of cats who are also happy to let him take part in life cat-style.

Not once does she say:

  • Be who you are.
  • You can be different and still belong.
  • Your life can be filled with varied experiences.

All of those messages are in there but they would be preachy if Wong came out and said any of those things.  Instead she does what we all need to do – she tells a really great story.



April 13, 2018

5 Minutes a Day: When It Looks Like Someone Ransacked Your House

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:11 am
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I’m not houseproud but when someone who has never been here before stops by, I don’t want it to look like enemy agents were looking for the code key which, at the moment, is pretty much how it looks. Unfortunately, my son’s engineering study group is meeting here on Saturday afternoon.

But I have a book due a week from today with two more chapters to draft as well as the back matter.  So I can’t stop writing, but I’ve been using the Pomodoro technique – 25 minutes of work followed by a five-minute break.  Even a busy writer can have a non-terrifying house by doing five minutes spot cleanings.

Here are 15 tasks you can complete in five minutes.

  1. Clean the sink and toilet.
  2. Pull the shower curtain closed and clean the bathroom floor.
  3. Pick up in the entry way.
  4. Pick up in the living room. This one requires having other people clean up their stuff.  If they say no…
  5. Box up other people’s living room clutter.
  6. Write the ransom notes for the clutter you have commandeered.  No, I’m serious.
  7. Box up the dining room table clutter.  We are packing up my dad’s house.  Things that have migrated have nested on my dining room table.  It’s going to have to move so time to box it up to go through after my deadline.
  8. Dust mop the living and dining rooms.
  9. Pick up in the kitchen.
  10. Pick up in the kitchen again.
  11. Clean kitchen table.
  12. Sweep kitchen floor.
  13. Mop kitchen floor.
  14. Pick up in family room.
  15. Vacuum family room.  We have very little carpet.  5 minutes will do it.

No the house won’t be spotless but in my experience dust offends me more than it does most other people.  So that will just have to wait. But this plan will get the public areas clean by Saturday afternoon.  Five minute spot cleanings will help you meet your deadline without your house looking like a crime scene.


April 12, 2018

Writing: Getting the Words Down NOW

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:49 am
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I know writers who wander around waiting to trip over their muse before they actually write.  I have a book due the end of next week. When you have a deadline, you have to write.  Period.  You can’t wait for Ms. Muse to make an appearance.  Here are three different ways to make the writing happen.

  1. The Pomodoro technique.  This a productivity tool that can be used by anyone who has a big job to get done.  You work for 25 minutes then take a five-minute break.  Work for another 25 minutes, take another 5 minute break.  Work for another 25 minutes and take another 5 minute break.  Then you work for one more 25 minute period and then you get a longer break, 20 to 30 minutes.The Pomodoro technique works really well for me.  I think that a big part of it is simply knowing that I only have 25 minutes to get something accomplished.  Click to find out more about the Pomodoro technique.
  2.  Dictate your story.  One writing buddy of mine dictates her work using Dragon.  I’ve heard various writers say that this is a great way to develop your voice and improve the dialogue in your stories.  I plan to give this a try when I draft my novel.  But I don’t think it will work with the teen nonfiction book I am currently writing.  For one thing, I can’t imagine trying to say all of those Latin taxonomical names.A word of warning.  Dictation software isn’t 100% accurate but dictation is a major pain in the rear.  Once you get really good at transcription you can usually type 30 minutes of dictation in 90 or so minutes.  More often it will take closer to three hours.  Doesn’t that sound like fun?  This is why I plan to give Dragon a try.
  3. Writing out-of-order.  You can also write scenes or chapters out-of-order.  If something is giving you trouble, skip to another section.  I do this with nonfiction more often than I do it with fiction.  When I finish one chapter and have just a small amount of time to work on the next, I often write the sidebars first.  They are short so I can get two or three done and feel a sense of accomplishment.

If you have a technique that helps you keep the words flowing, share it in the comments below.


April 11, 2018

Revision: Taking Advice and Reworking Your Manuscript

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 3:41 am
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On Monday, I posted about Kansas Missouri SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writer’s and Illustrators) Agents Day. As part of this event, you got a paid critique from an agent.  Mine was with Adria Goetz from Martin Literary.  She critiqued Drip by Drip, Cave Below, a nonfiction manuscript about a cave.

While she had positive things to say about my manuscript, she also had a big change that she wanted me to make.  Parts of the manuscript were very lyrical.  Yay, me!   But there was also a lot of science.  And I do mean a lot.  She wants me to separate the two so that I have lyrical text and science rich sidebars.

I like this idea a lot.  In fact, I like it so much that it is the way that I originally wrote People Pray.  That said, I took the sidebars out of that manuscript at the advice of an editor who then passed on it.

This is one of those moments when I have a big decision to make starting with Drip by Drip, Cave Below.  I can keep it as is – lyrical bits and science together. Or I can take Adria’s advice and keep the lyrical bits in the main text and separate the science into sidebars.  Or I can just reduce the science which is not going to happen although I am going to create separate sidebars.

But I am also going to take Adria’s advice and use it to rework People Pray.  Why?  Because I’ve been invited to send that one in and I want it to be lyrical and full of the kind of information that will make it a great social science text.

Rewriting based on what you learn at a writing event.  It’s never fast but if you take what you’ve learned and apply it?  You’ve got a much better chance of getting your foot in the door and finding an agent.



April 10, 2018

National Library Week

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 2:03 am
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Did you know that National Library Week started Sunday?  The theme this year is Libraries Lead.

This is most definitely true.  It is no longer the library I loved as a kid but that’s okay because it has so much to offer.

Our branch has been remodeled. It is bright and so well lit. There is an activity area with pneumatic tubes, blocks, and a light bright wall. It isn’t technically light bright but discs turn different colors when rotated. I just don’t know what else to call it.  Children can build with blocks and put on plays.  

The best part?  They have their own floor so no one is shushing them.  It is glorious and amazing.

Fortunately, not everything has changed.  When I was a kid, I would ride to the library and carry out an armload of books, stacking them carefully in my bike basket.

They still have a wealth of books but they also have audiobooks, ebooks, music, movies, electronic games, board games, book group discussion kits and wifi hot spots.  

Not too long ago, I was walking behind a teen and we had almost made it to the parking lot when I realized what he had checked out – a telescope!  The problem was that he was dropping things along the way.  We made a deal.  He held on to the telescope and I followed him to his car picking up various school supplies as we went.

I can’t wait to get to the library this week.  I missed getting to go last week. My husband when for me when I was in rehearsal.  There is always something new to see and I can hardly wait to see what it is. Why not head to your library this week?


April 9, 2018

Literary Agents: Seeking Representation

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 12:36 am
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On Saturday, I got to attend the Kansas Missouri SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writer’s and Illustrators) Agents Day.   Here are five interesting things that I learned.

  1.  Always include in your letter that you are an SCBWI member. This is a biggie and I always did it before I had any sales.  But lately?  I’ll have to check my letter.
  2. Do not tell an agent that you just finished writing your manuscript.  Revising.  You just finished revising your manuscript.  Yes, this means they get a lot of things that are really rough.
  3. Some agencies will take requests from publishers who are looking for authors for work-for-hire projects or who are otherwise looking for authors to write about specific things.  Not all agencies do this.
  4. If you write picture books and the agent loves picture book number one but is lukewarm about picture books two, three, and four, this person may not be a good match for you.  You want to work with an agent who is enthusiastic about your body of work not just one or two pieces.
  5. When you meet an agent or hear her speak at an event, they don’t want to get your manuscript while they are in the airport.  They want you to take the time to apply what you learned at that event to the manuscript that they saw or to any other manuscript that you are thinking about submitting.  Being first in line isn’t going to get you anything special and you won’t be first anyway.  Something probably came in while they were at the event.

Agents understand that looking for an agent is a frustrating experience.  But be patient.  They will get to your letter but they will only get to it after they get to the things they need to do for people who are already clients.   You’ll appreciate that when you land an agent.


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