One Writer’s Journey

December 13, 2018

Battling Injustice with the Persecution Flip Story: Why You Shouldn’t Try It

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:25 am
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When I saw the post on Mythcreants, my first thought was “Perse-what-a flip story?”  What can I say?  I hadn’t had any coffee yet.

Simply put, a persecution flip story flips who is persecuted and who is doing the persecuting.  What this means is that a persecuted group is now in power and those who are currently in power are among the persecuted.

At first glance, this type of story may seem like a good idea.  Isn’t it anti-persecution?

And while writing anti-persecution stories is commendable, this type of story comes with a host of pitfalls.

It is hard to write this type of story without stereotyping someone.  Whether it is a good stereotype (benevolent female leaders) or a bad stereotype (I’ll let you fill in your own), a stereotype is still a stereotype.

If you reverse the current status quo, you make it look like the only way for one group to gain is for the other to lose.  Is that really where you want to go when exploring human rights?

And can you say, been there, done that?  If all you do is reverse what is, it has been done.  Don’t believe me?  Watch science fiction series.  You will see these types of plots.

Instead you have to get creative.  Which should be okay because we are creative professionals.  But it means being creative both about who is in power and who is not.

One example on Mythcreants was Black Panther.  That made me also think of Children of Blood and Bone.  Both those in power and those out of power are West African so it isn’t about race.  It is about whether or not they have magic.  I was also thinking about Firefly.  Corporate power rules but everyone fears the reavers, think crazy, terrifying, cannibalistic space pirates.

In short, explore power and discrimination.  But don’t do it in a way that builds on existing stereotypes.  Doing it well is going to take a lot of work but that’s writing, folks.



December 11, 2018

Middle Grade Magic

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 11:32 pm

Well, the jokes on me.  I didn’t mean to publish this one yet. I was just going to save the URL and write the post later.  But in my mad rush to get to dinner, I published it and one of you liked it.  So, my schedule is getting a bit of an update.

School Library Journal has another great webinar planned.  Okay.  They don’t call it a webinar.  Middle Grade Magic is a virtual summit on March 27. This day long event enables participants to celebrate and learn about a vital part of books for readers aged 8 through 12 years.  There will be single speaker talks, panel discussions, sessions led by authors, librarians and more.  Topics include books, authors, and themes.

I’ve only participated in one of these virtual conferences which took place November 7 but I am still working my way through the author chats.  And I’ve only scratched the surface of all the giveaways I collected – graphic novels, catalogs, teaching guides, discussion guides, and more.

The event is tailored towards librarians and the needs of young readers vs writers.  But in all truth as a writer of young people’s literature you should be concerned with the needs of both these groups.  If this one is half as helpful as the last one I attended it will be well worth your time.

Can’t attend on March 27th?  Not to worry.  Sessions are recorded and you can watch them as you are able.  Of course, this means you can’t message the speaker with “real-time” questions, but most of them were open to answering questions later via Twitter.

Sponsors for Middle Grade Magic include:

  • Penguin Young Readers
  • Andrews McMeel Publishing
  • Annick Press
  • Diamond Book Distributors
  • Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
  • Junior Library Guild
  • Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
  • Running Press

Not sure?  Sign up.  The event is free and offers a great learning opportunity to all of us who want to reach middle grade readers with our work. You can sign up or find more information here.


Reading Your Work After an Absence and Growing as a Writer

We’ve heard the advice before.  Finish something and then put it aside for a month or so.  When you come back to it, you’ll do so with fresh eyes.  You’ll be able to see what works and what needs to be adjusted.  After you’ve not looked at something for a while, you’re no longer seeing what you meant to write.  You are seeing what is actually there.

But there’s another part to this as well.  There’s a chance you may have also grown or changed.  You may have learned something that has shifted your perspective.

Recently, I saw an author chat with author/illustrator Ezra Claytan Daniels who created the graphic novel Upgrade Soul.  If I’m remembering correctly it took him something like 15 years to finish, first coming out as a serialized graphic novel from iOS in 2012.  In September the full graphic novel came out from Lion Forge Comics.

In the chat, he discussed the fact that because he worked on it for som many years, the final graphic novel is a very different thing than it would have been if it had been accepted shortly after he first drafted it.  As he grew as a person, his interests and perspectives grew.  Each time he pulled Upgrade Soul out and worked on it, themes shifted.  Some were pulled to the forefront.  Others shifted to the back. Although it was and still is a graphic novel about identity and worth, the emphasis on various aspects changed over time.

The next time that you pull out an older piece and think “How could I have sent this out?” stop and think.  The person who sent it out had written the best manuscript they could write.  The person who just read it?  Not quite the same person.  You don’t see the world in quite the same way.  You’ve most likely grown as a writer, developing new skills.

Bring them to the table when you bring an old piece back out.



December 10, 2018

Writing for the Kid You Were

Recently I saw an interview with graphic novel author/illustrator Dustin Brady.  When he was considering what to write about, he considered the kid he once was.  What was it that he loved? What excited him?  He remembered loving the tv game show Nickelodeon Arcade in which two teams competed inside a simulated video game.  That recollection and enthusiasm led to his book series Trapped in a Video Game.

Obviously we can’t all write a brand new series about getting sucked into or stuck in a video game.  After all, now its been done.

But what did you love as a kid?  No seriously.  Sit down and make a list.  Mine would look something like:

  • Spending Sunday’s with G-ma T.
  • Visiting Grandad and Grandmother in West Texas every summer.
  • Helping Bumpa in his shop.
  • Watching movies with Bumpa – John Wayne, Albert and Costello, and every “on the Road” movie ever made.
  • TV shows:  Fury, the Lone Ranger, Little House, The Wonderful World of Disney, Tarzan (Johny Weissmuller), The Muppets, Monty Python
  • Going to the library.
  • Books: Little House, Nancy Drew, Marguerite Henry’s books, The Meg Mysteries, Trixie Belden, The Black Stallion, Black Beauty, Robin Hood, The Three Musketeers, Anne McCaffrey, Robert Aspirin, and the list goes on.  Choose Your Own Adventure books came out after I passed that age group, or at least I never saw them, but I read them with my younger sister.  We also did Mad Libs.
  • Learning anything they would teach me in school.  And I do mean practically anything.  Except PE.
  • Visiting historic sites with my dad.
  • Going to the art museum with my mom.
  • D&D

So where would I go with this?  It’s hard to say.  One of the pieces of advice that I’ve seen in the past was to combine ideas.  Role playing at the Art Museum?  Choose Your Own historic experience?

I don’t know. I’ll have to think about it.  Because just what I need is another project.





December 7, 2018

Getting Out of a Slump

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:13 am
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Monday, I turned in my last rewrite for the year.  That meant that I had 28 days to finish my writing goal for the year.  I want to rough out my first cozy mystery.  Given the fact that I have yet to bump off the victim, I don’t think a full draft is in the stars for 2018.  So I moped.  And I put it off.  And by Thursday, I still hadn’t written another word.

But I had been thinking.  A friend tagged me on Twitter.  “5 Things in Your Work in Progress.”  What to include?  It only took me a few minutes to come up with a list I could live with.

1. A small Missouri town

2. A summer festival

3. A church choir

4. A murder victim

5. A list of suspects

That’s when it hit me. Wait a minute?  Why am I trying to put so much into my first draft.  IT IS A FIRST DRAFT. IT IS SUPPOSED TO BE ROUGH.

What do you need for a cozy?  A victim.  An investigation.  Suspects.  The rest can wait.

You see I’d been trying to really pull together a polished first draft.  But what I need to do go get move again is strip it down.  I need to get to the murder.  I have three more scenes and then I’ll be there.  Three more scenes.

Looking at the stripped down outline, I started writing again late Thursday.  I sat down and wrote three pages.  That may not seem like a lot but that’s three more pages than I’ve written on it in something like two months.  Yes, I’ve written other things but when I start to contemplate ironing instead of writing?  Yeah.  I don’t care how bit that ironing pile is, I need to get off my butt and write.

Am hoping that this weekend, I’ll finish those three scenes and Monday, oh glorious Monday, I can bump this guy off.



December 6, 2018

Crowd Control: Working with a Large Cast of Characters

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 3:34 am
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The first piece of writing I ever sold was a fictional rebus.  There were three whole characters.  In fast most of the fiction that I’ve written has had a relatively small cast.  This cozy I’m drafting is a different situation.

There is the main character.  There are her best friends, one from childhood and one new.  One of these women is married.  There are the other members of their church choir, the choir director, the minister, two police officers, a friend’s brother, two police officers, spouses to several characters…

I feel like I’m populating an entire planet! I know I have to keep many of them.  After all, I need my detective, her sidekicks and a host of suspects.  But really?  Can’t I get rid of about half of them?

So it was with some interest that I read K.M. Weiland’s post, 10 Rules of Writing Large Casts of Characters.  Weiland confirmed something that I’ve been suspecting – less is better than more.  That’s why I’ve already gotten rid of one cop.  And maybe a few more can go.

But first I need to see which characters I need to move the plot forward and to help build theme.  Once I’ve roughed these out, I can evaluate my characters looking for those that overlap too much.  Why keep two when only one is really needed to do the job?

Once I know which characters are essential, I  may have to finagle a few things to space out their introductions a bit more.  At this point, my main character meets 2/3 of the choir in the same scene.  That’s something like 8 people all at once that are also new to the reader.  Part of the issue here may be solved by doing something Weiland suggests and grouping characters with one character acting as the mouthpiece.  Altos.  Tenors.  Basses.

But until I can be sure which characters I have to flesh out and which can fade into the background, I need to rough things out.  Looks like I have my work cut out for me.


December 5, 2018

Pitching a Nonfiction Series: The Work Before the Pitch

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 3:26 am
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When I saw that Bearport Publishing was looking for new nonfiction series, I decided to pitch something to them.  There are several things I’ve had to do before I actually start working on the pitch.

  1. Read.  It’s a good thing that I like to read because step 1 is reading a serious stack of their books.  Do I like what they publish?  YES.  That’s a big one for me. A lot of grade school level nonfiction series are ho hum or they seem that way to me.  But I learned something in every single book I read. So on to step 2.
  2. Check existing categories.  They publish a wide variety of books including animals, biographies, social studies and science.  All of those sound good to me but before I narrow it down I need to check…
  3. Publication dates.  One thing I noticed is that the social studies books that interested me were several years old.  That’s okay because my two social studies ideas?  Covered.  The animal books?  Those have been recently published so that’s my focus.
  4. Series ideas.  I’ve already come up with and rejected several series ideas.  Why?  They had already done them.  Now that I’ve got two or three series ideas that they haven’t done and I need to check…
  5. Individual books.  Not only do I need to verify that a series idea is untouched, I also need to check the individual books.  Say, for example, that I wanted to do a series on reptile predators.  I couldn’t do green anaconda or black caiman because those animals have been covered in the series Apex Predators of the Amazon Rain Forest.

All of that before the actual pitch? You bet.  There’s no point in working up a pitch if the individual books or the series have already been covered.  I’m going to bounce these broad ideas off my critique group and see which one they like best.  Then it is on to the actual proposal.


December 4, 2018

Writing Advice: It Ain’t One-Size-Fits-All

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:31 am
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Books by Famous Author Somebody.

Today I read a blog post written by a well-known agent. She was warning people about taking advice from the people in their critique groups. “Just because someone is outspoken, does not mean they are knowledgable.”  I think we’ve all seen it – the outspoken person who has no picture book experience but oh so much wisdom to impart.

But there is something else that we need to keep in mind.  And that is that writing advice is not one-size-fits-all.

When writers attend a conference or a book signing and ask a well-known person how they got their last book published, this person invariably tells their story.  Something that you want to keep in mind is that the trick that worked for Famous Author Somebody when it came to selling her 32nd novel is not necessarily something that will work for you.

Why not?  Because you aren’t Famous Author Somebody.  You don’t have her publishing credentials or the dollars after your name in the publisher’s ledger.  Experience and money-making ability are going to give her more wiggle room than you and I have.

Add to this that a writer who has yet to sell their first book needs just that.  A first book.

And not everything you write is going to make a book break-out novel.  It has to have the power to build momentum without your name being a known factor for book buyers.

No, I’m not trying to be discouraging but I would like to encourage you to be practical.  You have to find the manuscript and the approach that will work for you with the editor or agent you plan to approach.  This doesn’t mean that you can’t take advice from someone else.  After all, every time I post here I am depending on your willingness to take my advice.

But you also have to take Famous Author Somebody’s approach and make it your own. Because it is your work that you are going to be selling.


December 3, 2018

Hi/Lo: Is This Right for You?

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 2:06 am
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For those of you who aren’t familiar with the term, hi/lo books are high interest with low reading level.  Some of these young readers are struggling.  For someone reason, perhaps dyslexia, reading doesn’t come easily and is often a struggle.  Others are reluctant readers.  Maybe they don’t live in “reading families.”  It can be hard to develop a reading habit, or to even want to develop a reading habit, if you’ve never seen others read or if you’ve been taught to associate reading with negative traits.

Hi/Lo books are designed to pull these readers in and they do it in a number of ways.  One way is with exciting content such as survival stories or adventure.  Many of these stories seem to be pulled from todays headlines.  Not sure what I mean?  Take a look at Enslow’s new hi-low (their spelling) middle grade and YA imprint, West 44 Books.  The Same Blood is a book about mental illness. Dreams on Fire is about growing up with a parent who is imprisoned and another who is an addict.  Fifteen and Change is about equitable pay.

Many hi-lo books are written in verse.  In part, this is because books written in verse have a lot of white space.  Pages with plenty of white space are less intimidating than a book that has page after page of solid text.  Many novels in verse have hi-lo appeal even if they weren’t written for this market.  Two books I’ve seen recommended in this way are Swing by Kwame Alexander and The Opposite of Innocent by Sonya Sones.

Another group of books that often appeal to hi/lo readers are graphic novels.  Although these books may not have a lot of white space, the do have a low word count per page.  The illustrations and graphics can also help a struggling reader understand what is going on in the story when straight text would not have the same impact.

Could I write hi/lo?  Maybe.  In my work for Red Line this past year, I’ve discovered that writing at or below the 4th grade level is a struggle for me.  I can do it but the struggle is real.  Given that some hi/lo books are written at the 2nd grade reading level, I’d have to proceed with caution.

That said, I have an idea that I think would be perfect but it will take just the right publisher.  Ha! Story of my life.


November 30, 2018

Fan Faves: Writing a Story that Fits into an Existing Universe

Another week spent on rewriting but I’ve also fit in time to watch some more LibraryCon sessions.  Today I watched a session on Fan Faves or writing a story that fits into an existing universe.  The panelists were:

Jeremy Whitley who wrote My Little Pony, XMen, Hulk, Wasp and is currently working on Rainbow Brite. I have to admit that it really interested me to hear from a man who has written so many books with strong female characters.

Jo Whittemore who is writing Super Girl graphic novels.

F.C. Yee who is writing in the Avatar world.

When you write a book, short story or graphic novel for publication that is set in an existing universe, you have to get it right.  Mess something up and the fans are going to tell you all about it.

Because of this, authors who are invited to expand on this worlds have a lot of work to do.  When Jo Whittemore began writing about Super Girl, she had to do a lot of research to get CW approval.  Her slides showed the approximately 30 books that she read to make sure that whatever happened in her story was consistent with things that had happened in earlier stories.  She also read books that are still to be released.  She explained that one of the trickiest parts of her job is remember what fans already know and what they don’t because she has to be careful not to let anything slip.

I would think that to have the depth of knowledge needed to write one of these stories, you would have to be a fan.  But Yee emphasized that that brings its own issues.  He is a huge Avatar fan and when he writes a book for this series he has to be careful to keep his extreme fan tendencies in check.

This was definitely a reminder for any of us who want to try to write in someone else’s universe just how much work is needed to obtain the depth of knowledge required.

If you haven’t watched any of these sessions, they are still available.  Just register here and you will have access to all of the recorded sessions.


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