One Writer’s Journey

August 8, 2017

What to Work on Next…

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 2:08 am
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Most days what I work on is a fairly easy decision.  Deadlines must be met.  And I have plenty of things to get done this week.  There’s that pesky requested rewrite with a deadline for tomorrow and the publisher has a new manuscript for me as well.

I’m critiqing a manuscript for someone and really should read it again before writing up my comments.  It is fairly long and I always read a manuscript more than once before I critique.

And I’m practically done with a poem that isn’t going to find a publisher if I don’t submit it.  Annoying poem.  Why can’t it just send itself out? It knows what magazine is my first submission choice.

I’ve also targeted a possible agent who is only open for queries until Thursday.  I know what I’m sending in.  I have a synopsis.  I just have to finish the letter.  I roughed it out right before I finished this post and needed to reread it this morning.  So by the time you read this, my submission should be sitting in the agent’s in box.

But . . . but . . . I have a new idea.  It is brilliant.  It is amazing.  There are yeti!

The reality is that I would almost always rather work on the new manuscript.  The new manuscript is still just an idea.  It is pristine. It sparkles.  I haven’t had the chance to goof it up yet.  Honestly I was a bit of a snot today since I made myself work on other things.

Sigh.  I know I should be responsible but I’m hoping that I can find the time/space/energy to write a page every day starting tomorrow.  Fingers crossed that that will satisfy my need to work on this book as well as my need to keep the lights on.

Lights.  One of life’s necessary luxuries.





August 7, 2017

Your Work Space

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:04 am
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Where do you work?  I’m a full time writer so I have a dedicated work space.  I have writer friends who have laptops and just flit around wherever.  They work in coffee shops.  They work in the park or a public garden.  They work in the library.  They get together and work.

Really?  I don’t get that.  I have the attention span of a 3 year-old on sugar.  Or maybe I have the attention span of a 3 year-old looking for sugar.  Everything, and I do mean everything, distracts me.  Our third bedroom is the family office.  It contains a massive desk that wraps around three walls.  This is my section.

People distract me.  Noise distracts me.  Clutter?  Clearly the answer is no.  From left to right you can see:

  • A crochet project that I work on while watching the video lectures for the class I’m taking on Ancient Egypt,
  • A poem that is all but ready to go to Highlight Hello,
  • In front of the Chicken Little poseable figure are lip balm, 3 lotions and a glass of water. Clearly  writing is very thirsty business.
  • Behind the keyboard is one of Cynthia Reeg’s books, Monster or Die, a paint sample, and agent research.
  • That pile on the far right?  Filing.  Lots and lots of filing.

Clutter doesn’t phase me in the least but noise and movement make me crazy.  Do not chew loudly, rustle snack bags or listen to your ear buds or headphones so loudly that I can hear them.  Do Not.

Although my son has always had a spot on this desk, directly behind me, he has always worked in the dining room unless he’s on the computer.  That is on the desk in here.  Otherwise he uses our massive dining room table.

But change is good and he’s decided he’s ready for a change.  At 18, he’s going to college in town for two years so he bought his own computer.  He has that on the dining room table. He was convinced he’d be comfortable with a desk the width of mine and had plans all set to build.  But he’s used to a dining room table so when I saw someone was selling a partner’s desk, a showed it to him.  40 inches deep.  60 inches long.

This isn’t a very good photo but his room is dark blue and it is overcast.  That’s his dad taking the wheels off this huge table.  His space is about twice the size of my personal spot on the communal desk.

But that’s okay, we’ll both have more space and we’ll both have quiet space where we can’t distract each other.

You can work in a coffee shop or in the middle of the sidewalk if that works for you.  Us?  We need quiet.





August 4, 2017

SCBWI 2017 Reading List

Are you a PAL (Published and Listed) Member of SCBWI (the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators)?  If the answer is yes, SCBWI has a promotional opportunity for you might want to take advantage of.  
The Society isputting together a 2017 SCBWI Reading List to promote our PAL authors and illustrators.  As with previous lists this one will be shared with teachers, librarians, and booksellers. But this list offers another great opportunity.  SCBWI will have a booth at NCTE in November.  At this event, they will be handing out the list on flash drives!
Do you have a book on the SCBWI Winter 2016 Reading List?  They you are set and no action is needed (unless you want to add your website/see below). The Society is using the 2016 list as a basis for the new list.
Do you have a 2017 book you would like to see on the list?  You can even substitute it for your 2016 book. The important thing to remember is that there are a lot of us so each member can only contribute ONE BOOK.
To have a 2017 book listed or substituted for a 2016, send the following information to
25 Word (or Less) Book Description:
Your City and State of Residence:
Publication Date:
Grade Level:  (Use PreK-K, 1-2, 3-5, 6-8, or 9-12)
Your Website:
Including your website is a new feature of the list.  This means that if your book is from the 2016 listing, you can add your website to that listing.  Just send the following information to
The deadline for either a new entry or an addition is August 31, 2017.  
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have an entry to update!

August 3, 2017


Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 3:09 am
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Connect with young readers even outdoors.

Have any of you ever been fortunate enough to encounter a StoryWalk®?  I only learned that they existed earlier this week when someone asked about them on a community forum.

StoryWalk® is an innovative way for readers of all ages to enjoy reading in the outdoors. Laminated picture book pages are attached to wooden stakes positioned along a trail. As the reader strolls along, they can pause to read before moving on to the next page in the story.

StoryWalks® can be found in 50 states and 11 countries.  The original walk was created by Anne Ferguson of Montpelier, VT. She put it together with help from Rachel Senechal, Kellogg-Hubbard Library.

The costs for each installation include 3 copies of the book (2 for laminating and one as ‘replacement parts) and lamination costs.  Stakes are a one time cost and can be reused for subsequent books.  Because the book is purchased and the owner of a book can do pretty much whatever with it, copyright problems do not come into play.

I have to admit that I wasn’t initially thrilled with the idea of cutting a book apart.  But pulling young readers into a story?  Making them want to read more?  Perhaps get their own copy of the book?  That is very attractive.

Does your community have a StoryWalk®?  Do you have an outdoor oriented picture book?  Or a picture book that has something to do with exercise or an outdoor activity?  This would be an excellent way to help young readers connect with your book.

Click here and here for more on StoryWalks®.  The second piece has some great tips and words of advice.  And here are a variety of Youtube videos on StoryWalks®.




August 2, 2017


Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:17 am
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Starting today, I am re-instituting an old policy.  I am going offline to work.

Because so much of my whammock-2239788_1920.jpgriting involves research, I generally have a search engine open. This means that Facebook is also open.  My computer lets me know when someone contact me via Facebook.  It let’s me know when I have an e-mail.  Not to be left out, my phone also gets in on the act.

That ends today.

This weekend, we made a run down to the lake.  I didn’t really intend to work but I was going to get caught up on e-mail.  Ping, ping, ping, ping.

But since I wasn’t working, I only had my phone.  I left my laptop at the house.  My phone would connect to the wifi but it wasn’t giving me all of my e-mail.  “You have 100 but I’m going to give you 27 new ones and then 40 marked unread that are allegedly from May.”

I turned my phone off.  Same thing.

I disconnected from the wifi.  Still goofy.

So instead of reading e-mail, I went to the range with the boys.  We drove to the next town to visit a sporting goods store.  I ate BBQ and really good Mexican food.  I stared at the sky.  I watched humming birds.  I started crocheting a bat (the flying kind). I didn’t even read.

It was awesome.  I felt so relaxed.

And when I got home it was all still there.  Sure some of it was two days old but no one seems to have suffered any ill effects.  Three days after getting home, I am still trying to get caught up.

But that’s okay.  I feel a lot more relaxed.

So today, as you read this, I’m typing away, working on a picture book draft for critique tonight.  This is draft 3 and it is going much smoother than 1 or 2.  In part, I think this is because I know where the story is going.

But I’m not discounting the fact that I’m offline.  If you need me, you’ll just have to wait until my lunch break.



August 1, 2017

Naming Your Characters

Several months ago, I started working on a picture book set in the Himalayas.  I’m currently on my third major rewrite and my main character has already had two names.  I think the one she has now will stick.

I just checked the post-it notes where I wrote my first draft.  Yep, post it notes.  In that draft, my main character was named Gigi.

Why Gigi?  I’m sure that it seemed like a good idea at the time.  After all, it sounds perky and energetic.  My son actually works with not one but two teen girls named Gigi.  Honestly, I can’t give a solid reason other than “it seemed like a good idea at the time.”

By the time I got around to draft number 2, I had decided that as names go, that one wasn’t altogether suitable.  What would a girl be named who is hiking mountain paths in the Himalayas?  I noodled it over for a while and I may well have been plodding along on the treadmill when the answer came to me — Hillary!

The name initially struck a note with me because of Sir Edmund Hilary, the New Zealand mountaineer who scaled Everest. He is well-known because of a Himalayan mountain.  My character is in the Himalayas walking mountainous paths if not actually mountain climbing.  This could work!

Then it hit me that this is a name that comes loaded with connotations.  If someone is pro-Hillary, this may lead them to pick up the book.  Maybe it will encourage them to think of this character as a leader, as someone who pushes the limits.

Of course, not everyone is a Hillary fan.  This means that some people will automatically think negative thoughts because of the name.  They may put the book down.  They may think that the character must be dishonest and put the book down.

But . . . but . . . Sir Edmund Hillary.

I’m going to keep working with her as Hillary.  Ultimately, her name may need to change.  But for now I’m writing a story about a girl named Hillary.


July 31, 2017

Compelling Nonfiction: 4 Rules for Writing Important Stories

I’ll be the first to admit it.  Sometimes, by the time I’ve finished writing one of my more difficult books, I have troubles remembering why.  Why in the heck did I think it was a good idea to write about Black Lives Matter?  I definitely had the same doubts by the time I finished What Are Race and Racism?

But difficult projects are often the most important.  Why?  Because they are the stories that need to be told.

Here are 4 tips for those of you contemplating such a project.

  1. Write about the things that annoy you.  Writing about something that is controversial and people argue about.  If it is a topic that people are passionate about, young readers will want to read it and librarians are going to be more interested in having the book on their shelves.  This is also the topic about which you will be passionate enough to finish.
  2. Question your assumptions.  When we write about things that tug at our heart-strings, we have to remember to question our assumptions.  It is easy to assume that a source is spot on and 100% correct because it agrees with what you believe.  Look for the proof that you need to back up that opinion.  You may not like what you find but that’s okay.  You’re trying to get at the facts.
  3. Don’t expect everything to be black and white. We’d love to answer all of our readers questions.  But sometimes there is a fact that you simply cannot find or something that has yet to play itself out.  When things are unclear, admit this to your reader.  Give them the facts, some people say X, others say Y and this is why we don’t know who is right.
  4. Give the panoramic perspective. Looking for sources that disagree with your assumptions and admitting what we don’t know are important because you should be giving your reader the big picture.  I knew which side I agreed with when I started writing the DAPL (Dakota Access Pipeline) book but I portrayed both sides.  When I wrote Black Lives Matter, I gave the straight forward facts surrounding each situation.  It is your job to present your reader with the broader facts.

Writing about difficult topics is hard, there’s no doubt about it.  From finding the facts and laying them out in a way that let’s your reader come to their own conclusion, it is a tricky balancing act.  But it is definitely worthwhile.


July 28, 2017

Distance: The Key to a Successful Rewrite

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:08 am
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Put it away for a month.  Whether you are writing  novels, picture books, or poems, you’ve probably been given this advice.  Put your work away.  Gain some distance.  Then it will be much easier to see what needs to be fixed.

And it’s good advice when you have the time and space to take it.  Unfortunately, if you are doing educational writing that happens to be work-for-hire, your deadlines tend to be tight.  You know you don’t have the right word.  A phrase is rough. Something just isn’t working.  But you don’t have time to put it away for a month because you have six weeks from start to finish.  You might find the time to clean the bathroom (oh joy) but then you’re right back to it.  Hopefully swishing the porcelain clean was all the break you’re going to need because it is all you’re going to get.

About 2 weeks ago, I started playing around with a new preschool poem. You can read about it here. It was originally a type of poem known as a Golden Shovel.  Mine was a riff on a Poe’s Eldorado.  To put it mildly, it did not work.  Three lines just wasn’t long enough to develop the rhythm or any type of rhyme scheme I liked.

Version 2, written the next day, was 8 lines long.  Or at least it would be 8 lines when I managed to fill them all in.  Day 3, I filled them in but the rhythm was a bit off.

Day 4 it was almost there but . . . nope.  Some word just wasn’t quite right.  I’d change one word and then change it back.  Then I’d fiddle with a different word.  I suspected that I was on the verge of doing more harm than good so I put it away.

After a break of about a week, I got it back out this morning.  Coffee cup in hand, I changed one word in line 3.  Line 4 wasn’t quite right.  I stared at that for a bit, changed 2 words.  Changed one back.  Changed the other to something brand new.  It took me maybe 10 minutes.  Ten minutes to fix what I’d messed around with for 2 days.

Distance.  It really does help.

I wonder if it would have gone quicker if I’d set it aside for a full month?  Just kidding.  But I do have another week to ignore it before I show it to my critique group.


July 27, 2017

New Imprints

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:05 am
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New imprints mean new publishing opportunities so I was thrilled to see these two new imprints written up in Publisher’s Weekly.

JY is a new graphic novel imprint that will focus on middle grade readers.  The imprint is named after JuYoun Lee, the deputy publisher of Yen Press,.  JY will launch this fall and will ultimately publish about 12 titles annually.

Lee told PW that she is actively seeking submissions with plans to develop new comics authors.  You can see the entire PW story here.
Even more opportunities come from Yonder: Restless Books for Young Readers.  The mission behind the larger company Restless Books is to “give voice to those who don’t have a voice.” The company seeks to remove barriers to cross-cultural communication even now when anti-immigrant sentiment is pervasive. The company has already published book from Cuba, Madagascar, Brazil, Iceland, Malaysia, Pakistan, the United Arab Emirates, Russia, Mexico, and Israel.
Why a children’s imprint?  Restless Books feels that if American readers became accustomed to diverse books at a young age, they would be even more accepting of them as adults.  Publisher Ilan Stavans wants to find the right books that will encourage this type of broad reading and has been discussing the topic with Restless Books readers as well as independent bookstores with close ties to the house.
Yonder’s titles will run from picture books to middle grade and YA.  Producing these titles will require developing close ties with translators who will be responsible for maintaining the feel of the original book while also making it accessible to young American readers.
In October, Yonder will release The Wild Book, written by Mexican author Juan Villoro and translated by Lawrence Schimel.  It is a middle grade novel about a boy who stays with his eccentric, book-collecting uncle, who takes him on a quest to find the wild book which has never permitted itself to be read. The book is illustrated by Mexican artist Eko.
For more on this story, see the complete PW write-up here. You can also find out more here at the Restless Books website.

July 26, 2017

Illustration Contest

Are you a children’s illustrator?  If so, here is a fun contest you can enter as long as you are a member of SCBWI.

The KS/MO (Kansas and Missouri) Region of the Society is hosting a content.  The winners illustration will grace the KS/Mo Fall Conference 2017 programs and will be displayed on the Kansas/Missouri SCBWI web site.  It is a great opportunity to get your work in front of art directors, agents, and editors.  Don’t dawdle!

  •  DEADLINE:  August 7, 2017, by midnight. The winner will be notified by late August.
  • Open only to SCBWI members.
  • The illustration must be original, created by the illustrator submitting the work.
  • Submit a 350dpi .jpg of an 8” x 10” original work of art to illustrate the conference theme: Middle of the Map.
  • Send it as an email attachment to Amy Kenney at Submission files should be labeled with your name (eg: sam_doe.jpg).
  • Include the following in the accompanying email: your name; mailing address; telephone number; illustration title (if applicable).

I wish I was an illustrator!  The winner will be notified by the end of August, and will receive free tuition to the 2017 Kansas/Missouri Fall Conference on November 4th, 2017.   Note: You, the illustrator, will retain ownership of the illustration.

Good luck!


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