One Writer’s Journey

February 21, 2017

Character Development: What Can Your Characters Do?

lego-peopleIt isn’t surprising that writers frequently draw on themselves and their friends when they create characters.  Keeping that in mind, I guess it isn’t surprising than that so many characters, especially secondary characters like parents, are writers. But it does make me wonder when editors are going to start bouncing back writer characters as too common.

When you develop a character, brainstorm some of the things that you can do or have done.  Remember, leave writing off the list.  My own list of accomplishments would look something like this:

Jobs I’ve Held:


Candy striper

Archaeological Illustrator

Research Assistant

Asst Scout leader





Dye cloth



Use a bead loom

Free bead

Paint/houses and pictures



Bake a chicken in an earthen pit

Make bread from scratch

Cook down a pumpkin

Make butter




Re-assemble a pump (as in pump and cistern)

Do laundry using a wash board and water pumped from a cistern, heated in my great-grandmother’s kettle

Refinish furniture

Wire a house

Build furniture kits



Assist in digging a dry well

Make a pot from raw natural clay

Create a map from raw data

Assist in building a television from a kit — tube type obviously

Assist in installing a new car engine

Repack barrel bearings

Respool a fishing reel



This is definitely a more diverse list than my current primary job — writer.  Why not create a similiar list and use it the next time you develop a character?  You might also include things that your mother, father or grandparents could do.  That said, I’d have to do some serious research to make some of those skills available to my characters.  My mother was a top notch seamstress whereas I can sew on a button.  My grandfather was an army mechanic.  My father helped develop the ceramic tiles for the Space Shuttle.



February 20, 2017

President’s Day

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 4:45 am
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I hope that marooseveltny of you are enjoying your holiday.  I’ll be doing a bit of work but my family has a four-day weekend.  That’s means that I’m spending some time with them.

Have any of you written about one of our Presidents?  I have a lot of presidential picture books that I adore but I’ve been making a series of inspirational memes.  Many of them feature quotes from our Presidents.  Finding reliable quotes from political figures is no small task.

When I find something I like, I search on the quote itself.  I dig until I find it in an interview or a speech.  I’m not happy finding it on a quote based site because I don’t know how accurate their sources are.  So, without further ado, here are a few of my favorites.







February 17, 2017

Fiction or Nonfiction?

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:00 am
stemRecently one of my writing students wanted to know how to classify a book.  She was reading STEM books and had found one set in a classroom with animal characters.  They were learning about . . . rocks?  She might have said rocks.  I don’t actually remember.
There was a ton of information about the science topic but it was framed in a classroom setting with talking animals.  So would it be fiction or nonfiction?  She was really confused about how a STEM book could be fiction.
First things first, books that teach STEM topics can definitely be fiction.  Do a Google search on “fiction in STEM” and you’re going to find numerous listings on science fiction in STEM.  I’ve read fiction titles that demonstrate the scientific method, explain the fourth dimension, robotics, artificial intelligence, volcanoes, geology and more.
But it is easy to get confused.  At my library, Magic Tree House books are shelved with fiction but Magic School Bus books are shelved with what we commonly call “nonfiction.”  A talking bus that pops between one location and another?  Really?  I think we are going to have to start calling this section “informational books.”
But I can definitely see why Magic School Bus is shelved that way.  If a grade schooler wants to learn about sound waves, chocolate growing or the human immune system, there aren’t going to look first on the Magic School Bus shelf.  That said, it sure makes it hard for a Magic School Bus fan to read all of the books without going to the catalog.
I’ve never written a STEM book that was anything but nonfiction but I’m also matching series formats and standards.  That means giving the publisher what they want.  That said, I could see myself writing a fiction STEM book maybe in my spare time.

February 16, 2017

Reality vs Perception: When What You Know Isn’t Main Stream


Fort Davis, Texas

Tuesday I saw an article in Smithsonian. “The Lesser-Known History of African-American Cowboys.”  Whoa. It was a surreal moment because I grew up knowing all about these cowboys.

An electrician by trade, my father was a history buff.  We toured every fort we passed, scoured museums and walked paths reading signs.  I grew up hearing about these cowboys as well as the buffalo soldiers.  We discussed the African American families that moved West after the Civil War as well as the escaped slaves that found homes as members of various tribes. Lesser known?  Honey, I grew up on this history.

But the problem is that what we KNOW may not be well known by the dominant culture.  A friend of mine wrote a mystery set in a small, fictitious Missouri town.  She has a four way stop in the middle of town and now I’m trying to remember what was there.  Post office, bank and something else maybe?  Her editor, a New Yorker, challenged her on this.  “These things don’t exist.”  This same editor had never heard of the New Madrid fault let alone the New Madrid earthquake.  Missouri reality is apparently not “mainstream.”

Not everyone you deal with from either coast is going to be so immune to other realities.  But some people truly have not heard of the things that we assume are “known.”  That’s why making sure that diverse books are available is so important. Books on all cultures and time periods and different types of science need to be out there.  Thta way the kid who comes home with a bag full of books every week has access to a wide range of stories.  In twenty years, she’ll be the one looking at Smithsonian saying, ” Little known?  I read about that when I was 8!”



February 15, 2017

You’re so lucky: Luck Doesn’t Drive Successful Writing Careers

horse-shoe-110987_1920Recently, Hope Clark, the editor of one of my favorite newsletters, Funds for Writers, wrote about someone telling her how lucky she is.  “You were lucky to have FundsforWriters to sell your books. I don’t have that luxury.”
Personally, I find it a little hard to believe that the person who said this can coordinate walking and breathing at the same time.  Rude comment on my part?  Probably, but you have to be a little clueless to think that Hope’s success has been as a result of luck.  Like all successful writers, she didn’t luck into success, she made it starting with FundsforWriters.  She built it.  Yes, she advertises her books in the newsletter but she worked hard to have both a successful newsletter and 5 novels?  6 novels?  I’d have to go count them to be sure.  It didn’t just happen.  Hope is world-class at looking for opportunities and working hard.
I’ve had a lot of people tell me that I’m lucky too.  I get to work from home.  I get to write for a living.  I have ten books in print.  Well, guess what?  None of that just happened either.  When I started writing, I was going to write picture books.  I took a class with Pat McKissack and roughed out several manuscripts.  Then a friend started editing Young Equestrian magazine.
I wasn’t a magazine writer but she was looking for writers.  Hmm.  Take advantage of the opportunity or decide that it wasn’t right for me?  I went with Choice A.
Then another friend’s editor contacted me.  She needed someone who could write how-to articles for other writers.  Did I have experience?  Only in my regional SCBWI newsletter.  I’d never been paid and this wasn’t writing for children.  But again I said yes.
This is how I wrote and sold how-tos, book reviews, testing materials, crafts, science fair projects, pre-school class materials, and now nonfiction books.  I saw opportunities and I said yes.  I didn’t wait around for a lucky break.
Should I have focused on picture book writing?  I’m sure some people would say yes but that wasn’t the path I chose.  I’m not going to say that I’ve been unlucky but I don’t believe my career has relied on luck.  Instead, I rely on my willingness to see an opportunity and try something new.
What about you?  Are looking for opportunities?

February 14, 2017

Love and Writing: Do you have what it takes to write children’s nonfiction?

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:20 am
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heart-762564_1920I will never forget when I called me mom to tell her that I’d decided to write for kids. I was a university research assistant and about to finish a masters in history.  I loved learning but I had pretty much had it with university level education. I’d taken scads of classes, written papers and even a thesis based on original research.  I was ready for something new.

I expected Mom to ask me if this was the best use of my degree.  I expected a question or twelve.  She only had one thing to say.  “It’s about time you figured it out.”  You gotta love a woman who knows her kids well enough to know when they’ve landed the ideal career.

The reality is that writing children’s nonfiction is perfect for me.  I’m something of a factual pack rat.  I love information.  Archaeology?  It is THE BEST.  Biology?  What could possibly be more exciting!  Ethnography?  Fascinating!  Teaching someone how to write a specific type of poem, create a painting that displays tints and shades, or how to make a reflective model of a cat’s eye?  More fun that you can possibly imagine!

Is what you are currently writing your true love? If not, keep looking.  I’ve heard of writers struggling for years in one genre only to try another and discover a perfect fit.

You might also want to consider the following questions:

Are you interested in a wide variety of topics?

Do you find yourself trying to figure out how something works or is assembled?

Do you get lost when you do research, following one fact to another to another until you are in the midst of something else entirely?

Do you love learning something new?  Trying something new?  Helping someone else explore something new?

If you answered yes to these questions, you might seriously consider children’s nonfiction.  Or you could ask your mom.  She may have already figured out your perfect job.




February 13, 2017

Read aloud day

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:35 am
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wrad2017spotfinalEek! This really snuck up on me this year.  This coming Thursday, February 16, is World Read Aloud Day.  The goal of the founding  organization, LitWorld, is to encourage young people to “lead lives of independence, hope and joy.” Seriously, what more could you wish for your readers? As LitWorld says, “By raising our voices together on this day we show the world’s children that we support their futures: that they have the right to read, to write, and to share their stories.”

You may not have time to set something up by Thursday but if you don’t, please spend some time this week scheduling something. How can you celebrate this day?

  • Take your children to a reading event at the local library.
  • If there isn’t an event scheduled, find a comfy spot in the children’s section and sit down to share a book aloud.  No, you can’t be too loud but that’s okay.
  • Read at a Scout or Youth meeting.
  • If your child is in school, ask if you can come share a short story with the children.

LitWorld has a host of ideas. Check out all they have to offer here and make plans to read aloud on Thursday.


February 10, 2017

#MSWL Day: Boom or Bust?

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:20 am
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twitter-1138522_1920Were you one of the many writers checking out all of the #MSWL (Manuscript Wish List) tweets?  I planned to leave the feed up all day, stopping in to check every once in a while and read the latest posts.  But that plan went out the window when I got home from yoga and saw 400+ new tweets.

With so much being posted, I knew there was no way I could read it all.  So I’d scan the new posts when there were 20 or 40 but when I’d come back and find another 100 or more I simply refreshed the feed.

I know I missed a lot that way but I wasn’t too worried.  Toward the end of the day, I searched on a few key words.  #MSWL PB.  #MSWL picture book.  #MSWL  STEM.  #MSWL nonfiction.

As I found posts that interested me, I took a screen clipping and pasted them into a Word document.  All in all, I ended up with 9 leads.  Specifically, I was looking for picture books and nonfiction.  If I was looking for an agent who does young adult, I’d have had pages and pages and pages of tweets to go through.

There are three ways to see what a particular editor or agent wants.

Go to Twitter and read their feed.  This can be tough if it is someone who posts very often.

Go to Twitter and search #MSWL (agent or editor name).   This can be helpful if your target agents posts often.

Go to Manuscript Wish List.  Once there, search for your agent or editor of interested.  On their profile page, in the center column is a button that says “See my latest #MSWL tweets.”  Guess what?  Click it.  I’ve yet to figure out just how the tweets are arranged.  Not by date.  Not by reversed date.  Skim them and see if this agent still looks promising.

You can also like tweets as they are posted.  Then you go to your twitter profile and click likes.  Everything you liked is going to come up which might be a problem if you like a lot.

If you find a recent tweet that jives with something you’ve written, mention it in your query letter.  This is another way to show your agent or editor of choice that you’ve done your research.

Good luck!


February 9, 2017

Author Copies! and Getting Paid

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:04 am
Tags: , ,

authorcopiesI’ve been checking the porch for my author copies for days.  Of course, the authors copies of The Zika Virus and Hidden Human Computers arrive while I’m on the rowing machine so please forgive my snazzy outfit.

My husband brought the box in and put it on the bed.  I walked past it on my way to the Little Author’s room.  “What is that?”

“A box?”

A box.  With a great big, bright green Abdo sticker.  I must like him pretty much though because I gave him the bubble wrap.


Some publishers, most often magazines, pay only in author copies.  Um…no. I can’t pay the electric bill with copies.

When you are researching potential publishers, make those that pay your top priority.  Also pay attention to when you will be paid.  Here are some of the terms that you might run across.

In Copies or In Copies Only:  These are the ones that pay you copies vs actual, spendable money.

Work-for-Hire:  This means that the publisher will hold the copyright and, most often, you will not get royalties.

Royalties:  This is a percentage of sales that go to the author.

Advance:  If you are being paid royalties, look for a publisher that pays an advance.  That means that you get part of your royalties up front.  Yes, you have to earn enough to surpass this before you get another check but you get it now vs later.

On acceptance:  This means that you get paid when the publisher accepts the manuscript. This is how Abdo pays.

On publication:  This means you get paid when it comes out.  That’s how Highlights pays.

Hmm.  That’s all I can think of right now.  Ask me about anything that I’ve missed and I’ll add it to the list.  Or you can add it in the comments below.


February 8, 2017

Agents: Susan Hawk

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:34 am
Tags: , , ,

moving-dayToday is #MSWL day over on Twitter.  If you have an account, be sure to pop over there and see who wants what in terms of manuscripts.

If Susan Hawk is one of your dream agents, note that she has moved.  Formerly of The Bent Agency, Susan is now at Upstart Crow Literary Agency.

Susan recently blogged about what she would like to find this past year.  She is interested in:

Picture books that click in terms of the childhood experience (Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day), concept books (Not a Box), great character stories like Olivia or Pigeon, and lyrical, informational books (Over and Under the Snow).  

Middle grade mysteries ala US Agatha Christie, edgy and dark stories that push boundaries, contemporary stories with STEM interested female characters, historical fiction, and fantasy.

Young adult stories that focus on family, siblings and strong parent/child relationships, rich world building, non-Euro American historical fantasy, science fiction that deals with changes that might happen in our lifetimes, epistolary novels, unreliable narrators and more.

Good luck on your agent searches!   I still have two pitches out and am getting ready to work on a third.



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