March 29, 2017
March 28, 2017
One of the poetic forms that we studied in Peggy Archer’s workshop was the chant. The example that Peggy gave was from April Pulley Sayre’s Trout, Trout, Trout! I have to admit, I didn’t see myself writing a chant so I didn’t take a lot of notes.
Bad, bad me. Because the other when I was supposed to be paying attention to something else (like choir rehearsal), I started playing with the rhythm’s of bird names. Single syllable names were slower. Multi-syllable faster. I needed both and I was going to need quite a few. Before long I was compiling a list by first letter with different columns for different syllable counts. That a word list came into play isn’t entirely surprising since Peggy emphasized how helpful create a list can be as she works on a new poem.
In about ten minutes, I had a fair list bit I also had almost no idea what had been going on around me. Sigh. I put away my list and decided to pay attention instead of reading more about chants.
When I did get home so that I could do a bit of reading, here is what I discovered:
The chant may be the oldest poetic form.
It is called a chant because of the rhythm formed by repetition.
This repetition can be a single word or a line.
The repetition is important but it isn’t the be-all and end-all of the chant. Something in the poem has to change. That’s what makes it interesting.
Rhythm is a bit part of the chant, which could be why I was inspired to play with this form in choir.
Do a Google search and you can find numerous examples of chant poetry. Some are short while others are quite long.
Me? What I was playing with didn’t resemble any of the examples I found online. I want to read all of Trout, Trout, Trout! since it was the catalyst. I just hope I can pull something together without getting totally lost in choir.
March 27, 2017
At this point all of my agent queries are dead in the water. I’m going to have to wait until I finish the book that I’m working on before I can get any more queries out there.
No, I’m not procrastinating. The first batch of agents didn’t want proposals. They just wanted a query letter and X number of pages. I was kind of surprised since I thought most agents want proposals but I wasn’t going to argue. After all, I had rewritten the manuscript for an editor who wanted to see it.
Apparently, wanting a proposal is still the norm at least for about 2/3 of the agents I’ve researched. It is apparently just a coincidence that none of these agents were in batch 1. So what goes into a proposal?
Overview: This section includes the specs (title, word count and hook), short description of the subject, target market (reader age range), and why the book is necessary.
Markets: Who will buy your book. Include stats. My current book deals with a STEM topic so I will mention that.
Promotion: How to get your book into the hands of those would-be readers.
Competing Books: Other books on your topic published in the last 5 years. How does your book differ?
About the Author: Why are you the ideal author for this book?
Outline: List your chapters and summarize each. In my Abdo outlines, a chapter is 12 lines max.
Sample Chapters: What I’ve seen listed most often is 3 chapters of the finished book.
The entirely may be 15 or more pages long but the bulk of that consists of the outline and the sample chapters. The rest should be detailed but fairly brief. For a more detailed look at what goes into a proposal, see my post from yesterday on the Muffin.
Don’t let a missing proposal keep you from sending out your work!
March 24, 2017
Today I’m going to write about one of the traps that nonfiction writers sometimes fall into. We spend a lot of time and energy doing our research and as we research we uncover so many amazing things.
Did you know…?
Can you believe…?
I had no idea…!
And we want to share them all. Because of this, our work sometimes spirals out of control. That 500 word articles tops 1000 words. The picture book stretches towards 2000. A longer than expected word count definitely won’t work for a magazine piece if it is over the word count that the magazine publishes or the editor aske you to write.
A longer than expected picture book can work if it feels tight and co-hesive. But that’s the problem. So often something that is over-long feels long. Fortunately, there is a solution.
Focus on your story. Yes, story.
Even if you are writing nonfiction you are telling a story. It is your slant or focus.
This means that I wouldn’t write a picture book about all things Lakota. Maybe I would write about Crazy Horse. Or I might write about winter counts. Or star quilts — I love Lakota Star quilts. But all of this in one picture book would be messy and all over the place.
This doesn’t mean that you have to know exactly what your slant will be when you begin to do your research. Just gather the information. As you research, something will catch your eye. Or you will find that you have some really interesting material about this right here.
Once you have chosen a story, then you know what facts to include. And just because we call it a story doesn’t mean that anything is made up. This isn’t fiction, but nonfiction. “Story” is just a way to focus your thoughts and shape the written piece as you look for what led to your story, the attempts to solve or develop whatever, and then how it all played out in the end.
Again, your nonfiction has to be 100% factual. But thinking of it as a story is a great way to pick and choose the information you will present your reader.
March 23, 2017
My most recent batch of students is busy writing away. They are deep enough into their work that they are attempting to create scenes. A nonfiction scene is a lot like a fiction scene in that it is a great way to pull your reader into the story. It uses dialogue and characters, setting and action. Unlike the fiction scene, it all has to be true.
That means that if you include dialogue, you have to have dialogue to quote. It has to be word for word.
That means that if you find “someone mentioned needing to buy new shoes” in a source, that is all you can write. You cannot write ‘One of the students said, “I need to buy new shoes.” Nope. The problem is that the quotation marks imply that it is a direct quote. To use the quotation marks, you need to have found those exact words. “And I said to him I need to buy new shoes.” “Marcus said to me, ‘I need to buy new shoes.'” Something like that.
There are times that you have a bit of wiggle room. When I wrote about a family of armadillos, I could describe the four young armadillos digging into the dirt and tearing into a fallen log when they heard insects. Why? Because they are typical armadillo behaviors.
But when I wrote about the protests in Ferguson in Black Lives Matter, I couldn’t say that a protestor did X or a protestor did Y unless I had that information from my source material. Even if X and Y are both fairly innocuous actions, when I’m talking about people, I need to know that someone did it. Otherwise I have to say, a protestor may have done X or may have done Y and that isn’t the sort of thing my editor is going to let stand.
Creating a scene can be tricky but if you have the facts to pull it together it is one of the best ways to pull a reader into your writing.
March 22, 2017
Last weekend, I attended Peggy Archer’s poetry workshop. I sat and listened as she discussed rhythm and beats, near rhyme and true rhyme, soft and hard sounds and much, much more. I was out of my element. I’m a prose writer, honey.
Imagine my surprise when later that week I got an acceptance letter from Highlights Hello for a “humorous poem.” I’d already blogged about the workshop in my post titled Poetry, Writing in Rhyme and Wordplay.
The irony of it all? I still don’t consider myself a poet.
Poets write pieces fraught with meaning. There’s symbolism and they use the rhythm of words and phrases to great effect. What they write has layers and it is deep.
On a good day, I can pull off both rhyme and rhythm. On an insanely good day, the rhythm doesn’t sound like a kid galloping across the hard wood floor — duh-dum, duh-dum, duh-dum, duh-dum.
Meaningful? Not so much. There’s a twist at the end but rather than meaningful it tends to be quirky and funny (a little like me).
That doesn’t mean that I’m giving up. Far from it. As I walk the treadmill, I catch myself playing with the rhythm of words. One, two, one, two, three, one, two, one, two, three. Slower, faster, slower, faster. Peggy has managed to arm me with a bit of knowledge so I’m quicker to recognize what isn’t going to work (galloping across the floor) and I better understand what does work.
I’m still not a poet but I’m a slightly less pedestrian creator of rhymes. Hmm. That’s sure going to be hard to fit on a business card.
March 21, 2017
How can you tell if a teen novel is written for middle graders or young adults? For some people, the difference revolves around sex. If the characters are doing it, it must be young adult. But not all young adult novels feature sex. Some people think it has to do with the stakes or just how serious the subject matter is. But some middle grade books deal with things that are all kinds of serious.
One of my favorite examples of an oh so serious middle grade novel is Some Kind of Happiness by Claire Legrand. In spite of the fact that this book is for slightly younger reader it includes:
- The main character has clinical depression.
- Her parents are estranged from her grandparents.
- Her grandmother is being treated for cancer.
- Someone was blamed for a crime he didn’t commit to protect the town darling.
And those are just the things that I can remember just over half a year after reading the book.
Here are some of the differences that I’ve noticed.
Middle grade novels:
- Feature main characters who are younger teens or tweens.
- They have less autonomy thus may be sent to stay with grandma.
- They sometimes require the help of an older teen to solve the story problem.
- They are most often trying to find their place within their family or social circle.
- If there is attraction, it is generally pretty innocent — kissing, hand holding.
Young adult novels:
- Feature high school aged characters.
- They have a lot more independence and usually don’t need anyone to drive them around.
- They may require help but are more likely to go to a contemporary than someone older.
- They are often trying to break away from their families or social circle. They are becoming their own people and often rock the world back in doing so.
- These novels are longer and more complex with more subplots.
These aren’t the only differences but they are a start to developing an understanding. The more children’s novels your read, the more easily you will be able to tell the difference. Teens question everything. They know that adults are clueless. Middle grade readers have begun to suspect and may gather the proof they need in the course of the story.
March 20, 2017
Recently, I read a post over at the Nelson Agency about the dangers of informing a first-reader at an agency or publisher that your manuscript has LGBTQ+ character or that it is diverse. This particular reader said that when he read things like this in a query letter, he felt like the writer was going down a check list.
One gay character. Check!
A trans character. Got it.
Someone who is questioning. Present and accounted for.
The suggestion is that, instead of stating this, you should just tell about your story. If these characters are an integral part of it, the diversity will be obvious.
I can understand this request. Diverse characters are fantastic but they need to belong in the story, and not like sprinkles on a cup cake. They need to be part of the cake itself.
Back when I was a paid reviewer, I ended up reading tons of teen chick lit. I’m female but I generally did not connect with these books written “for a female audience.” For one thing, shopping is not my thing. I do it to feed myself and avoid exposure to the elements. But these female characters LOVED to shop. And, to help them out, they all had a gay best friend.
He offered dating advice and fashion tips, often picking out the perfect shoes to go with that darling prom dress. Oh, heaven help me. This character was never key to the plot. Never. He was just there. And gay. Providing all sorts of essential diversity.
When you are creating your story, your plot should spring from the characters. The characters shouldn’t be there just so that you can strike them off the list whether we are talking diversity of the racial, ethnic, religious, or LGBTQ+ variety. It all needs to fit and work together instead of reading like that table of mismatched items at a yard sale.
March 17, 2017
Don’t expect your first story to sell. Those are the words of wisdom that we experienced writers pass on to beginners. And I have to admit that my first manuscript is still just mine. And I have no plans to submit it. After all, I was new and it is pretty horrid.
But then I read an article on rebus writing. Rebus, for those of you who aren’t in the know, are short pieces for pre-readers. Some of the nouns are removed with pictures taking their places. The pre-reader can then decipher the words represented by pictures and read. I wrote a rebus and sent it to Ladybug. “The Flying Contest” was my first sale. First rebus. First sale. I’ve never been able to sell another or anything else to Ladybug for that matter.
Then I sent READ a pitch for a nonfiction article on distance swimmer Gertrude Ederle. “Can you write it as reader’s theater?” Sure! After learning all about reader’s theater, I wrote “Gertrude Ederle vs the English Channel.” It sold but I got rejections on my next attempt.
Last summer, I was doing some reading on the treadmill. I can access magazines electronically through my library so I caught up on Highlights Hello! and High Five. Inspired by Hello, I walked and played around with the rhythms of various words and phrases. It took some playing around, okay I lot of playing around, but I eventually had roughed a humorous poem called “Tiger Cat.” Tuesday I got word that it had told to Highlights Hello.
My very first manuscript will never sell. In fact I probably have my first ten manuscripts sitting around here gathering dust. (Ten is a kind, conservative estimate.) But first manuscripts in a new type of writing? Those seem to be a good thing for me.
Of course, my husband has made a suggestion. “What about trying a block buster series?” Wise guy.
March 16, 2017
Recently I came across an online discussion about reaching out to experts when we authors need to learn more about a topic. I was amazed at how many people assumed that they have to pay someone for information. That has never been my experience.
In my research on the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL), I came across an article about the work done by a professor who reviewed the original environmental assessment. According to the author there were numerous points that “raised red flags.” Seriously? I can’t quote that. My editor will want to know what things. So I did the only thing I could.
I went online and searched for the professor’s name. I knew her university so I was able to verify that I had found the right person. I simply used the contact form on her website, identifying myself as a children’s nonfiction author writing on the DAPL. I included a link to my Amazon Author page so that she could see what I do and then I waited. In less than two days she e-mailed me back with her cell phone number.
The vast majority of people I contact, especially if they are faculty, researchers or park rangers are happy to share what they know. They’re excited at the thought of educating young readers. And, especially when the topic is difficult or controversial, they want to make sure that the information being circulated is accurate.
I have had some people react with a certain amount of suspicion if they think that I’m a journalist. Nope — children’s writer. Nonfiction writer. Once they understand that, they usually perk right up.
Reach out to those who are experts in your field. They can help you replace skewed information with accurate fact. They may even tell you about something so new you won’t find it in any other print source. All you have to do is find an expert who is willing to share.