One Writer’s Journey

October 16, 2018

Fact vs Fiction: Stories Based on Real Life

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:40 am
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This past week, a fight broke out at the local high school.  Apparently it was “a big one” by whatever standards are used to quantify these things. The students who started it were not from our school and somehow accessed the building in spite of locked doors, students required to wear IDs and security guards.

One student reported to his mother that the school was on lockdown for two full classes.  Or so she claimed on Facebook.  Several other parents, parents I know, said that their children said no lockdown, the principal said no lockdown, and the announcement about the event didn’t mention a lockdown.  To which mom responded, “Are you calling my kid a liar?”

Writing about this as nonfiction would be tough.  Why would this kid like?  Why do some people talk about how strict the security is and others claim there is next to none?  How do you separate the fact from the fable?  It isn’t easy, but if you are going to write something like this up, you need to do it.

Writing this whole scenario up as a fictional story is an entirely different situation.  Let’s say that a girl let the boys in because one of them had a nice smile.  I don’t know that’s what happened.  I’m just spinning possibilities.  But if I wrote that in fiction, I’d have to make it pretty compelling.  Why would she do this?  Kids break rules in real life but in fiction they have to break them for a reason.

And what about the kid who is lying to his mother?  What if he isn’t?  Again this is my spinning a tale.  What if he is painfully honest and she’s lying to get her ex-husband the head of security fired?

One of the trickiest things about using reality to build fiction is knowing what to change.  Sometimes we hesitate to change how things happened when a change would create a more compelling, believable story.  Read your local paper.  Keep up on events at the local high school.  Both can lead to more story ideas than you have time to pursue.



October 15, 2018

National Book Awards: Finalists Announced

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:18 am
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Last week the National Book Foundation announced the finalists for the National Book Awards, winners to be announced on November 14.  In the category of “Yound People’s Literature,” the nominees are:

Elizabeth Acevedo, The Poet X (Harper Teen). “Xiomara Batista feels unheard and unable to hide in her Harlem neighborhood. Ever since her body grew into curves, she has learned to let her fists and her fierceness do the talking.”

M.T. Anderson and Eugene Yelchin, The Assassination of Brangwain Spurge (Candlewick Press). “”Uptight elfin historian Brangwain Spurge is on a mission: survive being catapulted across the mountains into goblin territory, deliver a priceless peace offering to their mysterious dark lord, and spy on the goblin kingdom — from which no elf has returned alive in more than a hundred years. Brangwain’s host, the goblin archivist Werfel, is delighted to show Brangwain around. They should be the best of friends, but a series of extraordinary double crosses, blunders, and cultural misunderstandings throws these two bumbling scholars into the middle of an international crisis that may spell death for them — and war for their nations. Witty mixed media illustrations show Brangwain’s furtive missives back to the elf kingdom, while Werfel’s determinedly unbiased narrative tells an entirely different story.” M.T. Anderson previously won prize in 2006 for The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing.

Leslie Connor, The Truth as Told by Mason Buttle (Katherine Tegen Books). “As he grieves his best friend Benny’s death, Mason and his friend Calvin, who are targeted by the neighborhood bullies, create an underground haven for themselves, but when Calvin goes missing Mason finds himself in trouble.”

Christopher Paul Curtis, The Journey of Little Charlie (Scholastic Press). “When his poor sharecropper father is killed in an accident and leaves the family in debt, twelve-year-old Little Charlieagrees to accompany fearsome plantation overseer Cap’n Buck north in pursuit of people who have stolen from him; Cap’n Buck tells Little Charlie that his father’s debt will be cleared when the fugitives are captured, which seems like a good deal until Little Charlie comes face-to-face with the people he is chasing.”

Jarrett J. Krosoczka, Hey, Kiddo (Graphix). A graphic novel. “In kindergarten, Jarrett Krosoczka’s teacher asks him to draw his family, with a mommy and a daddy. But Jarrett’s family is much more complicated than that. His mom is an addict, in and out of rehab, and in and out of Jarrett’s life. His father is a mystery — Jarrett doesn’t know where to find him, or even what his name is. Jarrett lives with his grandparents — two very loud, very loving, very opinionated people who had thought they were through with raising children until Jarrett came along.”

National Book Award titles always feel like they’ve been pulled from the headlines.  Given that, I’m very curious about he Assassination of Brangwain Spurge which I’ve yet to read.  Now awaiting a copy from my library.  Pick some of these up and let me know what you think.



October 12, 2018

5 Minutes a Day: NaNoWriMo

Do you plan to take part in NaNoWriMo?  For those of you who have somehow missed the phenomenon that is NaNoWriMo, it stands for National Novel Writing Month.  During the month of November, each participant commits to drafting a 50,000 word novel.  No, you can’t rewrite something you’ve already written.  No, this isn’t the time to finish up something you’ve started.  When you sign up, you are committing to draft at least 50,000 words of a NEW novel.

I’m not going to be doing NaNoWriMo for three reasons.

  •  I will most likely be rewriting a book I just got paid for.
  • I will most likely also be rewriting a book that is due at the beginning of November.
  • I already started drafting my novel.

That said, NaNoWriMo can be a great program to get you started.  But be sure to spend some time planning your story.  Yes, planning.  Here are 5 five-minute tasks for you to complete before November 1.

  1. Decide which of your great novel ideas you will pursue.  If you are as busy as I am, the temptation is to spend October getting things done with little time spent thinking about what you are going to write.  After all, I have a notebook with 261 story ideas in it.  No, really.  I just checked.  261.  To be successful you have to know which story you will draft because you have some prep work to complete.  That leads me to …
  2. Write a premise or elevator pitch for your story.  In broad strokes, what is it about?  Where does the tension come from? What is the character’s goal?
  3. Spend some time getting to know your main character.  What does she want more than anything?  What is on the line if she fails?  What stands in her way.
  4. Are the stakes high enough?  Is her ambition big enough to carry a book?  Because if not you may have troubles making that 50,000 word count.  Take a good look at what you’ve laid out and increase the stakes as needed.
  5. Outline.  I can hear the pantsers screaming from here.  I’m not saying do a detailed outline but do jot down the broad strokes.  What is the inciting incident?  What is the climax?  I know it is out-of-order but those are the two points I tend to start with mentally.  What attempts does the character make to solve the problem?  How does she fail?  For some people, this is enough to get started.  If you aren’t one fo those people, spend a few more five-minute sessions laying things out.

NaNoWriMo.  It’s doable especially if you’ve done some prep work.


October 11, 2018

Writing Humor: Oddly Specific

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:57 am
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Way back when I first started writing, I attended a conference workshop on how to write humor.  At the beginning of the session, the presenter encouraged us to imagine our character’s backpack.  What would be inside?

He explained that the expected items might include a math book, a spiral notebook, a pencil, even half a sandwich.  Humor comes in when you make things oddly specific.

Instead of a math book, your character might have Escher’s Basic Geometry.  Half a sandwich?  That’s going to depend what type of sandwich.  PBJ?  Boring.  Half a peanut butter, bologna, onion, and pickle is something else altogether.  I have to admit that I’m only so-so at this.  My son?  He’s a natural.  Three of the five items in the script below were his.

In fact, he’s the one that reminded me of this exercise.  He was telling me about a class exercise in sociology class.  It was about societal expectations and how people react when unexpected things happen.  Each student was asked to write down four things – a place, a food, an item, and a dollar amount.  It turned out that the professor was using them in a Mad-libs style script that went something like this.

Him:  I’m sorry we’re at the food court.  If I’d had ($3.26) more, I’d have taken you to (Paris).

Her: That’s okay.  This is great.  I’ll take (Church’s Chicken) and (zebra cakes).

Him:  And thank you for my gift.  I’ve always wanted (a bootleg copy of Incredibles 2).

This would have been a lot less funny if he had said he wanted to take her to the country or the beach.  Paris. That’s a place we can picture and seems a bit out of reach for anniversary food court types.  Again, chicken and cake?  So what.  Church’s Chicken and zebra cakes?  It’s a combination worthy of pregnancy.

Specific and off.  It isn’t what makes all humor funny but it is something that you can slip into most any type of fiction.  Instead of a favorite teddy bear, your character could have a stuffed bullfrog.

Play around with some details in your story and see if you can bring a smile to your reader’s face.


October 10, 2018

Setting Goals: 5 Steps to Getting the Writing Done

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:22 am
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When you write full-time, people have no problem telling you how lucky you are.  “You get to do what you want every day?”  While that isn’t quite true, I am far too easy for people to find, I do acknowledge that this is pretty awesome.  But it can still be tricky to squeeze the writing in.

Squeeze it in?  You bet.

When you have an eight-hour day and you are working on something tricky, it can be really had to put the writing off.  And then put it off some more.  And then it’s bed time and look how clean the windows are!

With that in mind, here are five steps to help you meet your writing goals.

  1.  Set concrete goals.  Yes, that’s right.  Oddly enough, to meet goals you have to set goals.  Strange but true.  Your goals also have to be concrete.  Not “I am going to write this week” but I am going to write 15 minutes a day, Monday through Friday.”  Make it straightforward so that you know you have been successful.
  2. Know what works.  This may take some time. Write down the goals that you set.  Write down what you managed to accomplish.  Then take a look at what worked.  Some people do better with word count goals.  “Write 200 words a day.”  Others need a time frame.  “Write for 15 minutes.”  Others need what I call writing specific goals.  “Finish a draft of my new picture book.”  “Write 2 chapters of my novel.”
  3. Evaluate.  Once you’ve worked toward your goals for a week or two, review them.  Are they working?  If not, try something different.  I can’t coffee shop write.  It is too distracting.  A friend can’t write at home.  The quiet is annoying.  If things are working, that’s good.  If not, try something new.
  4. Look for positives.  As you work to set your goals, look for the things that work well.  If you are a morning writing, set a goal to write in the morning.  If you need an outline before you write, include this in your goals.  Work with your strengths.
  5. Adjust upward.  As you develop a writing habit, nudge your goals upward.  Try to write for a longer period.  Try to write one more day a week.

Just remember to be realistic.  I remember reading that an author I idolized wrote 5 days a week, 8 hours a day. As a new writer, I found this very discouraging.  I was doing good to write for 20 minutes!  That was before I developed a solid writing habit.

Find what works for you.  Adjust it as you go.  Soon you’ll be adding words and pages to your count and making progress.



October 9, 2018

Graphic Novels: Is This Form Right for Your Story?

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 6:50 am
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EstrangedLast week, I attended a webinar by School Library Journal on comic book writing.  The guests were Ethan Aldridge, author of Estranged, and Wendy Xu, part of the SLJ team.   One of the things that they stressed was how vital it is to recognize both novels and graphic novels as legitimate means of story telling.

A novel is text-based.  It challenges readers to imagine what the characters and setting look like.  It stresses reading and literacy and is great for one type of learner.

A graphic novel may be better for visual learners because it stresses images over text.  It helps readers develop visual literacy, especially as they work to read and identify emotion.

But it also means knowing which is the better form for your particular story.  A fantasy or science fiction graphic novel allows the illustrator to develop the world.  It doesn’t require paragraphs or pages of text to tell the reader what the buildings look like and what people, if they are people, wear.  The illustrator simply depicts it.

The illustrator can also expand on the story by including characters in the background of multiple panels.  Readers will begin to look for these characters and they can be used to develop a visual subplot.

The fact that a graphic novel is illustration based means that it can be difficult to have an unreliable narrator.  The reader sees the world that the main character sees.  That said, the reader may see something in the distance that the character doesn’t.

I can’t say that I feel prepared to start writing graphic novels. But I’m curious to learn more about how the various elements work together to move the story forward, create tone, and more.  I’ve got a number of books on request including Sanity and Tallulah by Molly Brooks, Fake Blood by Whitney Gardner, and of course Estranged by Ethan Aldridge.  I’ll be requesting more as I finish these so let me know if you have any favorites.


October 8, 2018

Font Choice and Readability

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 6:31 am
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A couple of weeks ago, I spent some time on Canva design tutorials.  One of the topics was font as in matching font to message and making things interesting but readable.

Imagine my surprise when my husband sent me an article he had spotted, “Sans Forgetica: The font scientists created to help you recall what you read.”   What it comes down to is this – there is a reason that people don’t learn as well as they should.  We make it to easy for them.  What you need to employ is desirable difficulty.  If they have to put a bit of effort into acquiring the knowledge, they are more likely to retain it.

Whether or not you accept this theory, it is an interesting idea.  I’m a big believer in the idea that you tend to appreciate things if you put some effort into getting them.  But how does that apply to font?

A team of designers and behavioral scientists from RMIT University in Melbourne, Australia worked to create a series of fonts that are more difficult to read.  They then tested these fonts on approximately 400 Australian university students.  The results showed that one font, which the developers named Sans Forgetica was legible enough that people could read it but difficult enough to encourage deeper mental processing and, through this, better retention.

Here is a list I was given to commit to memory this week.

Sans Forgetica

What do you think?  Will reviewing it typed out in Sans Forgetica help?



October 5, 2018

5 Minutes a Day: Writer’s block

No, I’m not saying that you can get beyond writer’s block in 5 minutes.  But if you spend five minutes figuring out why you have it?  Then you’ll know which of these methods to try.

So far this year, I’ve written 6 contracted books.  I’ve rewritten 4 of them.  I’m about to write #7.  I’ve also written one picture book and am about done with another.  And I’m drafting a novel.

Given this schedule, I know what my problem is when I can’t write.  I’m tired.  Physically and quite likely mentally.  I need to apply technique #2.  I need to do something creative or fun and recharge.

But earlier in the year before I met all these deadlines, I couldn’t get the novel outlined.  It just wasn’t happening.  I finally realized that it was because I was intimidated.  I’m good at nonfiction.  Fiction?  Not so much.  Instead of facing the blank page when it was time to draft a scene, a copied a paragraph from the outline.  Ta-da!  The page is no longer blank!  Goofy?  Yes, but the word started to flow.

Solution #3.  That’s what I need to employ when I’ve been writing but something just feels off.  I take a break and fold laundry or walk.  Exciting things like that.  I think about the project.  And very often it becomes clear that I’ve written myself into a corner.  I need to take a new direction.

When you get blocked, spend a few minutes noodling over your schedule, your project, and your emotions.  Once you know where you stand, you’ll have a better chance of getting past that wall.


October 4, 2018

Online Presence: Should You or Shouldn’t You

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:47 am
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Should you take time from your writing life to have an online presence?  The short answer – yes.

Understandably, your first job as a writer should be your writing.  Whether you write poetry, early readers or young adult novels, you need to write.  Most of us have to squeeze writing in between work and our families.  And that can be tough.

But before you start to submit, you need to have an online presence.  Why?  Several times, I’ve had editors admit that they Googled my name before giving me an assignment.  Obviously, I blog.  I’m on Facebook and Twitter.  What I post as a writer let’s these editors know that I’m a professional.  I’ve been around for a while.  I’m not likely to flake out and disappear.

After you start to sell your work, you really need an online presence.  When someone reads something you’ve written, they are likely to search on your name.  Do you want them to find you writing about your work or someone else writing about your work?

There’s also the fact that you want other writers to be able to find you.  When I write articles about writing and books, I frequently interview agents, editors and authors.  Agents and editors are easy to find.  If nothing else, I call the main switchboard where they work.  Sometimes they even answer the phone.

You would probably be surprised how many authors I would love to interview if only I could find them.  A Google search locates their book on Amazon or in a library but the actual author? AWOL.  There is no website, no Amazon Author page, no Facebook, no blog, no Twitter.  This means there is also no interview which would have translated into free advertising for their book.

Your online presence doesn’t have to be huge.  I get it.  Time is a factor.  But set up a Facebook author page where people can message you.  Or set up a super simple web site.  There will come a time that you need to be found or you are going to miss out.



October 3, 2018

Occupations: The ones you feature in your writing say a lot

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 12:27 am
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Recently I saw an interesting post by Becca Puglisi about character occupation.  She and Angela Ackerman have an online Occupation Thesaurus available for writers.  Each entry is an occupation and it includes an overview of what this occupation does, the training required, positive personality traits that might be associated with this characteristic, negative traits, and sources of friction . . . and much, much more.

Her post soon had me thinking about the occupations we choose for teen characters as well as adult characters.  In the published books I read, I see a lot of writers and teachers.  There’s also a steady stream of librarians.  I’ve gotten to the point that my first reaction when I see one of these occupations is to think that the writer should have tried a little harder.  Maybe turning to the Occupation Thesaurus would help.

But I think it is also essential to think about what these occupations have in common.  Answer – these people all tend to be fairly well-educated and middle class.

If we are trying to portray a wide range of people in our books, this is something to think about.  What other jobs might your characters have?  Obviously, to write about it, you have to know something about it.  So let’s start with the people I’m related to – I could employ a teacher, a writer, heavy equipment operator, a lawyer, a contractor, a nurse, a nurse’s aide, a forensic tech, a cross-country bus driver, someone who paints cars, a mining engineer, an aircraft electrician, a police officer, a volunteer fireman, a ranch manager, and a social worker.

Take a look at that list and you are going to see a full range of educational levels and socioeconomic levels.  That’s the great thing about my family.  We’re all over the place.  As you can see, we have both of the fall-back occupations – writer and teacher.  But we also have much, much more. And that’s not even taking into account my in-laws.

When you assign occupations to your characters, think about what the occupations mean in terms of education, time period, and socioeconomic status.


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