One Writer’s Journey

October 9, 2017

Your Rough Draft: Slap It Down

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:21 am
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I’ve been in critique groups with people who fiddle with their first sentence for months.  They write it one way and then another, struggling for perfection.  Not me.  I just slap that sucker down and keep on writing.


Yes, I know that your first several sentence need to hook your reader.  I know they need to set the tone for your writing. They give the reader the very first clues about your voice.

And, that’s just great.  But I just slap it down and keep moving.

Maybe it is just the way that I work but I can’t know what the perfect opening is until I have a clue what is in the rest of the story.  Not that I obsess about the middle or the end either.  I just plow ahead.

What do I mean by plow?  Last week I wrote chapters 2 through 9 in a 9 chapter book.  In terms of word count, it was something like 12,000 words.  I’m not going to say they were all perfect or even good.  But they were something.  And now that I have a clue what is in chapters 2 through 9, I’m ready to fine tune chapter 1.  And chapter 2.  And all the others.

But I can only do that once I have a full draft pulled together.  Once I have that draft, I can firm up my idea about what the book should be.  Then I go through it all again and see what it is.  I’m not going to lie.  Very often there is a gap between what I want and what I have.  I have to cut sections that don’t belong and beef up some that just don’t do all they should.  But that’s okay.

Because once I have pulled together a draft, I have something to work with.  So if you’ll excuse me, I need to get through three more chapters today.  That way I’ll have time to edit it all in print and still meet my Friday deadline.

I think I can, I think I can …



October 6, 2017

Query Letters: What would you want to know?

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 4:00 am
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In about two weeks, I’ll be leading a workshop on query letters.  Here is what I’ve pulled together so far:

3 successful letters.  One is from a picture book author.  The other two are for novels.

I’ve put together a list of online resources.

I discuss the hook.  I compare it to the elevator pitch.  I still need to put together a “how-to” on elevator pitches but I thought that would be useful.

I discuss the story paragraph and what to include when you summarize the book.

Next I give them information about what “nuts and bolts” to include about the book — length, audience age level, genre, “will be enjoyed by readers of X.”

After this, I will talk about the “Why Me?” paragraph.  Why am I the perfect author for this book and how to include only pertinent credits and biographical material.

Then of course is the “Why You?” paragraph.  This is the one about “why you are THE agent for this book.”

Then I’ll go into the wrap up (thanks for reading) and signature (include pertinent social media info).

Can you think of anything else you would need to know?  I don’t want to leave anything out but I also want to leave time to workshop people’s letters and write elevator pitches of their books.



October 5, 2017

Novel or Movie: Wonder

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:14 am
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Somehow I’ve managed to not yet read Wonder by R.J. Palacio.  If you know me, it isn’t any big surprise.  I don’t handle bummer books particularly well.  But I am apparently writing a middle grade novel.  I thought it was a chapter book but my characters are rather obstinate.  It is middle grade.

So I asked people to recommend middle grade novels for me to study.  When a young reader champions a book, I pay attention.  And one that came up again and again from the kids themselves was Wonder.  So I took a look and apparently I was wrong when I labeled it a bummer book.

Now I just have to manage to get it read before the movie comes out.  Manage? It isn’t all that long.

There is a waiting list!  Why the exclamation mark?  Because I love it when I want a book from the library and there’s a waiting list.  And this one must be extra amazing because there is a waiting list for the print book, the large print edition, the audio-to-go edition and the book on CD.  How cool is that?

One of the things that I keep an eye on as I read a book and then see the movie is how the two differ.  The problem is that a movie and a book are two very different forms.  Generally, a book can handle more introspection than a movie but they’ve solved that with a first person voice over.  In an especially long book, subplots and characters sometimes have to fall by the wayside to make the whole story fit.  And things that might not be too gruesome in print can be horrifying on-screen.  Not that I’m expecting a lot of horrifying.  You know now that I really know that the book is about.

If you haven’t read it yet, why not request your copy?  And until it comes, you can always occupy yourself with the trailer below.


October 4, 2017

PubforPR: Bid now to help Puerto

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:41 am
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Once again the publishing community has come together to help people in crisis.  As you all know, the island of Puerto Rico has been devastated by hurricane damage.  People are without clean water, communication is down and disease is starting to spread.

How can you help?  #PubforPr is a group of writing professionals who have organized an auction of books, critiques, workshops and more.  It’s an auction so it goes without saying that the highest bidder wins the prize.

Take note – this action started on Monday (10/2/2017).  It ends Thursday (10/5/2017) at 10 pm Eastern  So you need to visit the site and check out the list of auction items NOW.  When you see an item that intrigues you, click to get a more detailed listing.  Scroll to the bottom of the comments to see the highest bid and, if you can top it, post your own comment/bid.

You can get more information by visiting the site or watching the video above.  Scoot on over to the site and see if your dream agent has a consultation posted.  Wouldn’t this be a great way to get your foot in the door?


October 3, 2017

Infographics: Get It Across Visually

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 2:14 am
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I’ve spent a lot of time lately noodling over infographics.  For those of you who aren’t familiar with this phrase, an infographic is a visual means of getting an idea across.  According to Erica Boynton on Onespot, there are 8 different kinds of infographics (see their infographic to the right).  They are:

The Visual Article: A long, complex article that has been made visual.  The Onespot infographic is just this type of infographic – recreating the text of the blog post in an image.

The Flow Chart:  A flow chart uses “if X, then Y” statements to guide the reader through a series of choices to make decision.  Possibilities that have to do with writing might include “do you need to add tension to your novel” or “should you take that writing job.”

The Timeline:  This is a great way for readers to keep track of the events preceding a big moment in time.

The List:  I tend to think of lists as more of a sidebar than an infographic but a list can easily work either way.  There are lists in the infographic.

Number Love:  Think graph.  There’s one of these in the infographic as well, “Searches for Infographic.”

Versus Comparison:  These can be a lot of fun if you are doing something with a complex pro/con component.  In writing it could be self-publish or traditionally publish?  E-book or print?

Data Viz:  A simple way to convey information that would be really complex in written format.  This could work for a science article on the steps in digestion.

The Map: This is a great one when your information has a geographic component.  Think “The Most Popular Picture Books in the US.”

For my current project, we are encouraged to make suggestions for Number Love (graphs) or Data Viz.  Me?  I’d love to work with a map but my current project just wouldn’t benefit.  Sniffle.

Would you current nonfiction topic benefit from an infographic?  If so, you might want to try roughing one out.  Read up on how to do it on this post, Promoting Your Work: Creating Infographics about using the web tool


October 2, 2017

Ho Hum Boring Words

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:14 am
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Especially when your word count is limited, it is important to use vibrant, meaningful language.  Why say very hot when you can say molten?

But there are just times when your brain gets stuck.  What’s a better way to say good or bad?  Happy or sad?

Author Jack Milgram at the Custom Writing blog shared this info-graphic of “28 Boring Words.”  But Jack wasn’t happy just to tell us what words to avoid.  He gave us several possible substitutions for each weak word.

Check this out and see if you don’t find a better word for very or things.  Whether you are writing a poem, a picture book or a novel, strong language pulls the reader into the world you have written.  They help provide the details that bring it all alive.

Sometimes you are trying to choose a more interesting word.  Sometimes you are striving to find a more accurate word.

But don’t let this search bog you down.  This isn’t necessarily something I worry about in draft one.  But it is something that I make sure I address when I rewrite. I should be working on chapter 3 of my next project so —

Happy writing!  Or now that you have this word list, perhaps you will be rewriting?


September 29, 2017

The Flash Essay: The Sparkler of the Essay World

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:59 am
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“This is hilarious.  You should write it up as a flash essay.”

This was the note that I got from one of my editors.  She had embarrased herself by bemoaning a family situation with me. I told her not to worry.  The situation was all too familiar.  She wasn’t sure she believed me so, as any writer would do, I illustrated my point.

I told her that I’d think about it but essays don’t really do it for me.  I love the form but I’m good at writing short.  The last time I looked at essay markets, I nearly fainted.  “The average length of the essays we purchase is 5000 words.”  “15,000 words.”  “Up to 10,000 words.”

Help!  I write short.  It’s what I do.

But I know flash fiction is short so I decided to look into flash essays. One market listed 1000 words.  Another 350.

350 – 1000 words.  That is something I could most likely handle so I started looking for information on flash essays.

  • Also known as a micro-essay.
  • A flash essay is written in first person.
  • They generally only have room for an anecdote or two.
  • It goes beyond personal narrative, pulling in ideas and data that broaden the scope of the piece.

A flash essay is to essays what a sparkler is to fireworks.  Short, intense, and wonderful.

A great way to get a feel for a type of writing is to read it.  Two places that you can go to check them out are The Christian Science Monitor’s Home Forum and concīs. Why only two?  It seems like a lot of the places that publish essays charge reading fees.  Me?  If you have to pay for them to read it, that’s not a market.  That’s a service.  If, on the other hand, they read it without charging you and then pay you even a small amount.  That’s a market and, at least in my mind, will attract a very different type of material.

Obviously, I’ve got some research and writing to do if I’m going to make this flash-essay thing work.


September 28, 2017

Why I Write What I Write

Why do I write what I write?  The answer varies according to what my focus is at the moment. I’ve written for the horse loving kid I once was.  I written for the young reader who just wants to find a great book.  I’ve also written for the kid who loves to work with their hands.

Right now?  My focus is on writing for young readers who want to know the world.  They want to know what is vs what they have been told.  They suspect something in that “common knowledge” may be a bit off and they want to know fact.

It’s why I write about race and about science.  As a society we are spectacularly clueless about both. Ironically enough, my current project has more to do with science than race but my recent reality check came from the world of racism.

The other night, I tried to explain to someone that I really do know a little something about the Kaepernick situation, the protest, the racism in the National anthem, etc.  Really.  I’ve researched it.  I’ve written about it.  My first two books on race have gotten really good reviews.  The third one has only been out for a few weeks.

“Well what’s the name of your book?”

I was going to tel him the names of all three books.  I got as far as Black Lives Matter.


The fireworks were glorious.  Let’s just say he has blocked me because we “have no common ground.” He turned off notifications.

cricket  cricket  cricket

The ignorance, fear and narrow-mindedness that led to that reaction?  Yeah, that’s why I write what I write.  Kids need books that present them with facts about topics the adults in their lives are afraid to discuss.  Apparently, I’m the aunt that appalls those adults.

Or, as my son explained to one of his professors the next day – “What does my mom do?  She writes socially incendiary books for teens.”

And the best news?  This whole argument about the NFL and the flag has given me an idea for another book.  I’m still noodling it over and I’ll be diving back into the constitution and may have to interview vets.  Still, I’m sure it will be offensive to many.  I seem to have a knack.


September 27, 2017

Side Bars: Bite-Sized Chunks of Info

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 2:50 am
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I’d love to say that I finished a whole chapter today.  That would sound really impressive.  And I thought I would manage to pull it off when I saw how few comments my editor had on my chapter.  Seven.  You should be able to pop through seven comments lickety split.

Sidebar from The Ancient Maya.

Pfft.  What I hadn’t realized was that one of them was a “big comment.”

Little comments are things like:
Double check this fact.
What country is this in?
Make sure this word is in the glossary.

Big comments take a lot more effort to address.  Big comments are on this scale:
I’m not saying it should be here, but somewhere in the chapter/book, you need to address X.
Cut the preceding two paragraphs and expand on the ideas in this paragraph.
Make sure that your sidebars are spaced evenly throughout the chapter.

This particular comment was the last one.  The one about sidebars.

For those of you who haven’t included sidebars in a manuscript, sidebars are those bite-sized write-ups that provide just a bit more information about something in the chapter, article or book.  A sidebar is offset from the rest of the text often by a box, title, different font, or background color.  This sort of thing is handled by whoever does the interior book design.

Within the manuscript, a sidebar includes a title and is double-spaced.  It looks a lot like the surrounding text.  When I write for Red Line, I set sidebars off by including SB: at the beginning of the title.  The one above would have been SB: Jade.  I also have a fairly tight word count that I need to stay within when I include sidebars.  On my current project there are two sidebar lengths.  Short are less than 100 words.  Long are 150 to 200 words.

The hardest part?  The part that took me so much time today?  When there are multiple sidebars in a chapter, I need to make sure that they are spaced, more or less, evenly from beginning to end.  When there are four, they don’t have to be at the 1/4 mark, 1/2 way, at the 3/4, and at the end.  But most of them can’t be bunched up at the beginning of the chapter either.  When they are, you may have to fold one into the main text and come up with another.

It may not take long to write an individual sidebar, but making sure you have them dispersed correctly is another thing altogether.


September 26, 2017

Banned Book Week

Banned book week 2Somehow it had completely slipped my mind that this is Banned Book Week.  This is a week of reading promoted by the American Library Association in order to make people aware how often people attempt to censor or ban books.

A book ban can come from any political or religious group.  People challenge books that disagree with their own beliefs, but these challenges can come from any group.  “The lust to suppress can come from any direction,” said Nat Hentoff in Free Speech for Me—But Not for Thee: How the American Left and Right Relentlessly Censor Each Other.   (This quote is from the ALA website.)

There are people who simply cannot handle an idea that at they don’t agree with.  When they see or hear such an idea, they get nasty.

When my son was in high school, we had to sign a permission slip for him to read a Banned Book.  The teacher provided a list and he chose one.  Then we had to okay it.  He chose Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451.  When I signed the permission slip, I wrote a note to the teacher.  “Why am I signing this when practically every book you’ve had them read is banned?”

She wrote back that I was the only parent who realized this.  And that was why she asked parents to sign a slip.  She wanted her students and teachers to realize that perfectly ordinary books get banned.  Yes, sometimes it is for extreme content.  But often it is simply because an idea or concept scares someone and they don’t want their children exposed to it.

You can check out a wide variety of banned books.  There are numerous lists on the ALA web site.

Or you can go with one of my favorites:

  • Alexie, Sherman. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian
  • Anderson, Laurie Halse. Speak
  • Collins, Suzanne. The Hunger Games Trilogy
  • Coville, Bruce. Am I Blue?
  • Curtis, Christopher Paul. The Watsons Go to Birmingham—1963
  • Green, John. Looking for Alaska
  • Lowry, Lois. The Giver.
  • Polacco, Patricia. In Our Mothers’ House
  • Rowling, J.K. Harry Potter series
  • Winter, Jeanette. The Librarian of Basra: A True Story from Iraq
  • Winter, Jeanette. Nasreen’s Secret School: A True Story from Afghanistan

Some of these are picture books.  Some are young adult novels.  The point?  People are easily offended and often try to control the ideas that children can access.  Fortunately the ALA stands in their way.


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