One Writer’s Journey

January 19, 2018

5 Minutes a Day: Creating the Writing Life You Want

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:21 am
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Back on January 1, I announced that I’d be testing out various tasks that will go into 5 Minutes a Day: Creating the Writing Life You Want.  The whole idea for this book came about after I blogged on the Muffin about writing my middle grade novel in 5 minutes a day.  You can read that post here – 5 Minutes a Day: Roughing Out Your Novel.

On Fridays I will be blogging about my discoveries and progress.  That’s when you can tune in here and find out about my successes and perhaps, more importantly, my failures.  I’ve already discovered a few things that don’t work or at least that make things more difficult. I’ll write about these things and what I’ve done to get past them.  I’ll write about what works well and what brings progress to a halt.

Throughout the year I’ll be writing about:

  • Outlining Your Novel in 5 Minutes a Day
  • Getting to Know Your Characters in 5 Minutes a Day
  • Drafting a Book in 5 Minutes a Day
  • Crafting a Rewrite in 5 Minutes a Day
  • Testing Your Novel to See What Works in 5 Minutes a Day

But as we know, writing is about a lot more than writing the book.  Sure, that’s the important part.  Because without the book you don’t have anything to publish.  But finishing the book is only part of the job. So I’ll also be blogging about:

  • Locating Your Dream Agent in 5 Minutes a Day
  • Preparing Your Submission in 5 Minutes a Day
  • Creating a Solid Web Site in 5 Minutes a Day
  • Brainstorming New Ideas in 5 Minutes a Day
  • Creating Your Own Office in 5 Minutes a Day
  • Researching Markets in 5 Minutes a Day
  • Keeping Your Work Circulating in 5 Minutes a Day

One of my editors has asked me to include things that people can do to free up some writing time.  With that in mind, I also hope to cover:

  • Taming Meal Time Madness in 5 Minutes a Day
  • Sharing Household Tasks in 5 Minutes a Day (No I don’t expect your family to love this one)
  • Tricks and Tips for Writing on the Go

That’s the plan so tune in next Friday, although I certainly hope you come back before then, for the first 5 Minutes a Day column.   And if you can think of something that you’d like me to cover, just leave a comment.




January 18, 2018

Writing a Fictional Story Based on Fact

If you like to write fiction based on fact, be sure to read Katherine Applegate’s The One and Only Ivan. 

I have to admit that although the book was originally published in 2012, I just read it.  For the first time.  Yes, it had been recommended to me.  Yes, I had seen the book and therein lay the problem.  I had seen the cover.  It looked depressing and I have a soft spot for great apes in general, gorillas in particular.  I really did not want to be depressed about gorillas. But I finally read it and I am so glad that I did.

Applegate based her story on the life of a real gorilla that lived in a mall.  He hadn’t been with other gorillas for over two decades.  Now he lives at a zoo in Atlanta. Applegate knew about this gorillas life when she decided to write her story.  But she wanted to give Ivan the chance to be a real silverback.  The silverback doesn’t just sire little gorillas.  He is their protector.

If that is true, how can a gorilla who lives alone be a silverback?  This is why Applegate wrote the story as fiction.

Oddly enough, the real gorilla liked to paint so Applegate didn’t have  to add that detail.  But in order to give him someone to protect, she had to change the story.  So she added a baby elephant, Ruby.  Ivan promises to make sure that Ruby has a better life and thus has to do something to make it happen.

Not only does this fictional gorilla have the opportunity to be a real silverback, he also gets to be a strong protagonist.  In addition to protecting Ruby, he solves his own problem.  This isn’t some thing that was available in reality so Applegate fictionalized it to make a stronger story.

Writing fiction based on fact is tough.  When we try it, we are tempted to hold on to too much.  Instead we need to discover the Essence of the true story.  We need to make certain that ends up in our fictionalized tale and then craft the best possible story around it.

To read more on writing fact based fiction, check out Fiction or Nonfiction: An Opportunity to Craft the Best Story  and How to Write Fact Based Fiction.


January 17, 2018

Setting: Getting Specific

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 3:05 am
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The story that I’m working on is set in the Himalayas.  One of the problems that I’m dealing with is that there are only so many ways to say stone without sounding like you are raiding the thesaurus.  I’m also having to look for a variety of ways to say climb, slope and steep.

I want to bring the setting alive but I’ve never been to the Himalayas.  Fortunately, I’ve been in the Davis Mountains around Alpine, Texas.  Part of the Rockies, they are . . . rocky.  They are also high altitude and desert so that works to my advantage.  But what about the cold?  The Himalayas, at least the altitude where my characters are, are not as cold as I had assumed.  In fact, the temperature in Kathmandu, Nepal at this very moment is 45.  Our high today was 22.

But I’ve also watched wildlife videos filmed in the appropriate area. And I’ve watched hiking videos and hiking how-tos.

Another possible resource is The Rural Setting Thesaurus: A Writer’s Guide to Personal and Natural Places by Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi. This book has several pages that focus on mountains with suggestions for sights, sounds and smells as well as possible conflicts.  There are notes about the people who often living in mountainous areas and more.

This research will all go into choosing the right words to help my setting come alive.  Is it worth it?  You be the judge.  When I asked my critique group to read the first two chapters, Pat had yet to reach the point where my character calls the surrounding mountains the Himalayas but .  “This is the Himalayas, isn’t it?” Pat asked.

Choosing the right details, expressed with the right word, can help your reader know your story is set in the Himalayas vs the Rockies.  Given the fact that the two are half a world apart, specifics can make a world of difference.


January 16, 2018

Golden Kite winners announced!

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 4:24 am

Late last week the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators announced the winners of the most recent Golden Kites.  Woo-hoo!  The Award recognizes excellence in each of six categories: Young Reader and Middle Grade Fiction, Young Adult Fiction, Picture Book Non-Fiction, Non-Fiction for Older Readers, Picture Book Text, and Picture Book Illustration. This year there were over 1000 entries.

The winners and honor books are:

Young Adult Fiction:
Elana K. Arnold for What Girls Are Made Of (Carolrhoda Lab/Lerner Publishing)

Courtney Stevens for Dress Codes for Small Towns (Harper Teen/HarperCollins)
Liara Tamani for Calling My Name (Greenwillow Books/HarperCollins)

Middle Grade Fiction:
Jack Cheng for See You in the Cosmos (Dial Books/Penguin Random House)

Kimberly Brubaker Bradley for The War I Finally Won (Dial Books/Penguin Random House)
Ruth Freeman for One Good Thing about America (Holiday House)

Non-Fiction for Older Readers:
Debora Heiligman for Vincent and Theo (Godwin Books/Henry Holt and Company)

Non-Fiction for Younger Readers: 
Carole Boston Weatherford for Schomburg: The Man who Built a Library (Candlewick Press)

Picture Book Illustration:
Kenard Pak for Goodbye Autumn, Hello Winter (Henry Holt and Company)

LeUyen Pham for Fallingwater (Roaring Brook)

Picture Book Text:
Carolyn Crimi for There Might Be Lobsters (Candlewick Press)

Carmen Agra Deedy for The Rooster Who Would Not Be Quiet (Scholastic Press/Scholastic, Inc.)

Congratulations to all of the great authors and illustrators on this list.  This was a good year for Candlewick, Henry Holt, and Dial.  If you haven’t read these books, head to your local library.  I’m embarrassed to admit that although I recognize many of the covers, I’ve only read Carmen Agra Deedy’s The Rooster Who Would Not Be Quiet (Scholastic Press/Scholastic, Inc.).  Judging by that one alone, I’ve got some wonderful books to read.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to the library.  This cold winter weather is perfect for reading with a cup of coffee and a cozy blanket.


January 15, 2018

Seeking Inspiration: 3 Things I Learned from Marla Frazee

Last week, I saw this amazing short video of Marla Frazee while I was on the treadmill.  I say amazing because it was inspirational on so many levels. Here are three things that I took away from it.

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<p><a href=”″>Marla Frazee</a> from <a href=””>Adam Goodwin</a> on <a href=””>Vimeo</a&gt;.</p>

One. Think about what inspired you as a child. Frazee loved Where the Wild Things Are and Blueberries for Sal.  In Sal, she loved that the book was printed in blue. To Frazee, that felt like a gift.  In Where the Wild Things Are, she looked at Sendak’s art and saw the many ink lines. She thought of the amazing effort that he shared with his readers.

What did you love about your childhood favorites?  I loved Marguerite Henry and the Little House Books because while they weren’t nonfiction they brought so much truth to story.  How can I bring this to young readers in my own work?  That’s something to consider as I chose projects for the coming year.

Two. Be willing to put in the time to make your work feel unique and your reader feel special.  Often we look for quick sales and quick bucks.  Frazee talks about hand painting the endpapers in Santa Clause the Number One Toy Expert.  It took her three weeks to hand paint all of the stars because doing it on the computer, though fast, would have altered the feel.

Are you taking a short cut some where in your work where doing it the long way might yield a deeper, richer feel?  It’s the difference between home churned ice cream and a freeze pop.

Three. Put the effort into what matters.  Other things can be kept simple. After I watched the video, I told my husband I was tired of my pencil box.  I’m tired of having to dig through it to find what I want.  I want the awesome organizer that Frazee has or something very like it.  Her organizer looks like either a utensil or drink caddy. She sorts dozens of pencils by color with one space for blue, one for green, etc.

I just rewatched the video.  Her pencils are in tin cans.  The utensil caddy seems to be a central board with a cut-out handle and three cans attached to each side.  While we are busy working to make things special, we need to make certain that we devote that effort to the things that really matter.

Other things can be as basic as a tin can.


January 12, 2018

Winners!: Winners of the Walter Dean Myers Award for 2018 Announced

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 7:15 am

Long Way DownYou Bring the Distant NearThe​ ​Walter​ ​Dean​ ​Myers​ ​Award,​ ​also​ ​known​ ​as​ ​“The​ ​Walter,”​ ​was​ ​named​ ​for​​ ​author​ ​Walter​ ​Dean​ ​Myers​ ​who passed away in 2014.​ ​Myers​ ​was​ ​the​ ​third​ ​National​ ​Ambassador for​ ​Young​ ​People’s​ ​Literature,​ ​appointed​ ​​by​ ​the​ ​Library​ ​of​ ​Congress in​ ​2012​.​ ​Take a look at his books and it is clear that he wrote and promoted diversity​ ​in​ ​children’s​ ​books.​ ​The award celebrates authors who also honor this diversity.

Without further ado, the winners and the honor books are:

Schomburg2018​ ​Walter​ ​Award,​ ​Teen​ ​Category
*Long​ ​Way​ ​Down​ ​​by​ ​Jason​ ​Reynolds.

2018​ ​Walter​ ​Honors,​ ​Teen​ ​Category
*You​ ​Bring​ ​the​ ​Distant​ ​Near​​ ​by​ ​Mitali​ ​Perkins
*Disappeared​ ​​by​ ​Francisco​ ​X.​ ​Stork

2018​ ​Walter​ ​Award,​ ​Younger​ ​Readers​ ​Category
*Schomburg:​ ​The​ ​Man​ ​Who​ ​Built​ ​a​ ​Library​ ​​by​ ​Carole​ ​Boston​ ​Weatherford,​ ​illustrated​ ​by Eric​ ​Velasquez

2018​ ​Walter​ ​Honor,​ ​Younger​ ​Readers​ ​Category
*Forest​ ​World​ ​​by​ ​Margarita​ ​Engle


I have to admit that I haven’t read all of these books yet so I will be requesting them at the library as soon as I post this.  A Long Way Down really intrigues me, but when you order it make sure you get Reynolds’ book.  My library had 3 novels with the same title.

I’m going to have to wait to get my hands on You​ ​Bring​ ​the​ ​Distant​ ​Near but that’s because I’m holding out for the audio book.

forest worldThe last time I read about Disappeared my library system didn’t yet have copies.  They’ve arrived!

I really love Margarita Engle but I have to admit I’m a bit panicky having read her book description.  No, I’m not writing about Cuba but I am writing a book that features cryptozoology.  Eek!   I’m 98% certain that they are very different.  Let’s hope I’m right.

Enjoy reading these books about a wide variety of characters.  I know I’m looking forward to getting to know them.


January 11, 2018

What Does It Take to Be a Successful Writer

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:10 am
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What does it take to be a successful writer?  I don’t mean what does it take to publish.  I mean what does it take to be a Name.

That is something I started thinking about this morning when I saw a comment a reader – ok, my mother-in-law – made on my Facebook author page. I had posted a link to Matt de la Pena’s Time article, “Why We Shouldn’t Shield Children from Darkness.” My MIL commented on what a great article it was.

Naturally, I agree.  That’s why I posted the link. So I responded. “He is an amazing author and speaker. Also an advocate for young readers.”  But I hesitated to post it.  It sounded a little fan girl.

But aren’t these the hallmarks of all the very best writers?

  1.  He’s an amazing writer.  He writes stories that resonate because they are honest.  He doesn’t  make the world prettier than it is.  He doesn’t make it more compassionate.  There is hope, but his stories echo reality.  This connects with his readers.
  2. He’s a great speaker.  A lot of the children’s authors I’ve heard speak are good speakers.  It might simply be that the writers who are willing to get up there and speak can occasionally pretend to be extroverts. But they are really good speakers and that’s important.  Being a good speaker puts you out there and makes it easier to connect.
  3. He connects with and cares about his readers.  Read his article for an example of this. It happened when a student spoke to him during the comments session in one of his talks and touched the whole room. That happened because of the honesty in his work.  The one feeds into the other.

I’m not saying that you have to be a speaker on some big stage.  I’m not saying you need to win major awards.  But if you want to be one of the best you’ll approach your readers with this level of Truth and Compassion whether there are 15 of them or 150.


January 10, 2018

Your Bedside Rorschach Test: The Reading Pile

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 3:22 am
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I recently read a post suggesting that the books we have on our bedside tables are revealing.  First things first, the only book on my bedside is my night-time reading.  But I have books scattered throughout the house.

Bedside: My current nocturnal reading choice is my January book club book – The Bad-Ass Librarians of Timbuktu: (and their race to save the world’s most precious manuscripts by Joshua Hammer. I’m only on about chapter four but it is really holding my attention.

Living Room: Waking Up White : And Finding Myself in the Story of Race by Debby Irving. This book was assigned by our Presbytery.  I am only about four chapters in and, although it hasn’t surprised me in any way, it does encourage you to think and the discussion questions at the end of each chapter will make leading a conversation on this much easier than it might otherwise be.

Then there are the many books on my library shelf.

Some are there because looking at the photos in knitting and crochet books is something of a holiday tradition. Thus:

  • Vintage Modern Crochet: Classic Crochet Lace Techniques for Contemporary Style by Robyn Chachula
  • Rustic Modern Crochet: 18 Designs Inspired by Nature by Yumiko Alexander
  • Knit Kimono Too: Simple Designs to Mix, Match, and Layer by Vicki Square

The rest represent my recent interest in graphic novels and a wide variety of books I’ve recently seen discussed online.  Why oh why did it all arrive right before Christmas?

  • Hereville: How Mirka Got her Sword by Barry Deutsch
  • Pashmina by Nidhi Chanani
  • I am Alfonso Jones by Tony Medina, illustrated by Stacey Robinson and John Jennings
  • All the Answers by Kate Messner
  • Renegades by Marissa Meyer, one of my favorite authors.
  • The monster of Florence by Douglas Preston with Mario Spezi
  • The Stepsister’s Tale by Tracy Barrett because I love retellings.
  • Life on Surtsey : Iceland’s Upstart Island by Loree Griffin Burns because it is nonfiction
  • Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman, illustrated by Chris Riddell because shouldn’t everyone read Neil Gaiman

I also have a host of audio books simply because they all arrived at the library right before Christmas and, with everyone home, I didn’t get much listening done.

  • Greenglass House by Kate Milford
  • The Copper Gauntlet by Holly Black and Cassandra Clare
  • The Road by Cormac McCarthy
  • The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate

I’m not 100% certain what this reveals other than the fact that I request way too many books and have a really good library system.  It is funny that both books I am currently reading are adult books.  That almost never happens. Obviously I love fantasy but I also read a lot of SF.  What is on my shelf varies.  Sometimes there will be more picture books.  Other times more nonfiction.  There are almost always more children’s and teen books than adult.

What is in your to-be-read pile?




January 9, 2018

Author’s Agreements: Why You Need More Than a Handshake

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:44 am
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Just over a week ago, my niece messaged me.  Three of her friends want to publish a story they are authoring together. None of them know an author and they weren’t sure what to do.  Seeing the opportunity to boost her status, she volunteered me.

I love working with young writers but they want to self-publish.  I’m just this side of clueless where that is concerned so I’ve been talking to several friends who have chosen that route.  Thank you to Kathryn  Robbins who pointed out something big that I hadn’t considered.

Because there are three people working together, they need an author agreement.  It doesn’t matter if they are high school students, college students or writing pros.  Any time more than one person is working on a project, there needs to be an Author Agreement.  In an agreement you set out:

Who will do what in terms of writing the book.  If you have three authors and no illustrators, you need to know which person is the lead writer.  Will each person write certain sections?  Who will be responsible for the final rewrite?  The editing?  This is easier if one person is the writer and one the illustrator but you still need to write it all down because these expectations will include how one person will deliver the material to the others.

Cover and book design.  If this is a self-publishing project, who is responsible for the cover, including text, and the book design.

Deadlines.  When does each portion of the book need to be done?

Royalties.  You need to decide not only how money will be divided but who will receive the initial payment and then cut and mail checks to the others.  How often will this be done?

Future Plans.  Discuss and write down what everyone’s plans are for 10 years from now.  This should include information on how one author can buy out the others.  This is especially important with young authors who may ultimately take separate paths.   This should also include what to do if one person wants to renegotiate the contract.

This sounds like an awful lot when you just want to work with someone to write a book.  And 90% of the time that is true.  But if there is a problem, it is better to have it all written down, signed and notarized.  As the old saying goes, hope for the best but plan for the worst.


January 8, 2018

The Agent Search: What to Look for

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:18 am
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After getting discouraged in searching for an agent in 2017, I’ve rebooted my search.  This means that it is time to study up on a batch of new agents.  Here are some of the things that I look for when I’m checking out an agent.

  1. Make sure the agent is taking clients.  I know.  It sounds like a no brainer.  But I’m constantly finding excellent interviews that make me want to approach this agent so badly.  Then I do a bit of reading and discover – too bad, so sad – this person is not taking clients.
  2. Check out what type of books this person does.  This is a tough one for me because I do a variety of work.  I need someone who is willing to do nonfiction because that’s where I am strongest.  I also need someone who will take not only mg and ya adult novels but also picture books.  Nonfiction and picture books are often the problem.
  3. Check out book specifics.  Once I know this person does more or else everything that I do, I start to look at types of books.  This is where I often have a problem.  For example, I love, love, love so many of the books that Kate McKean loves.  It looked promising enough that I requested four titles to read.   But you have to go beyond the books they’ve repped and the ones they love.
  4. Read interviews.  This is super important because while I was busy requesting books on McKean’s list, I was also reading interviews which is where I came across one horrible line.  “No gross out nonfiction.”  What?  Nooooooo.  That may not be my mainstay but if you can combine science and gross, I love it!  I write it.  Ker-plop.  That was just me falling into a despondent pile on the floor.  Ignore me.  I’ll get hungry or thirsty and snap out of it quickly enough.  Read all you can because there’s more you need to know.
  5. Check out this person’s vision/publishing world view.  As you read, find out all you can about how this person works with authors and thinks about publishing and author careers.  I want someone who wants to help an author build a career.  Some agents think book by book.
  6. Searching for a pro.  Also remember that you are looking for a professional.  I took one agent off my list because although I liked the sound of her interview, I couldn’t find her affiliated with an agency.  Yes, she may have her own agency but I couldn’t find anything that said that either.  I kept finding places that mentioned her as an author.  No, no.  I’ve got that covered.  I want an agent.  In an agency.  I’m not saying that I’ll only work with someone with 20 years experience, but I want them to be part of an experienced team.

So there’s your short list of things to look for – taking clients, part of an agency, the right types of books, books you love, and a publishing world view that matches your own.  It seems like a lot but it is all essential if you are going to build a partnership that works.



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