One Writer’s Journey

May 9, 2017

Inspiration: Some Writer

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:09 am
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When we take our work to critique group, we always hope that they are going to LOVE it.  After all, these are our stories.  Okay, I meant to call them story-babies, but I just can’t do it.  Far too precious for me to do it and survive.  Anyway, these are our stories and we adore them even if they aren’t painfully cute. But our critique groups don’t always share that story love.

Unfortunately, my story is 90% realistic.  All of the characters but one are human.  That one is taking the place of a human but still acting like it’s animal self.  If I can manage to pull this off, it will be hilarious.  Because I said so. But one of my critique buddies rejected the fantasy element outright.

Still, I’m too pig-headed to give up so I’ve got more research to do.  Not about my topic.  This time I need to research existing picture books with both animal and human characters.  If I can work myself up to do it.

Fortunately I just read a highly inspiration biography, Some Writer: The Story of E.B. White by Melissa Sweet.  In the book, we read about the reaction that people had to Stuart Little.  White wrote the book based on stories he told his kids.  Not surprisingly, the stories were a huge hit.  And, no, I don’t say that because your kids love every story you tell them.   I say that because you don’t tend to do “episodes” or “chapters” if your kids hate the story.  You abandon them.

White had had several people, including librarians, ask him to write a children’s book.  But Stuart Little freaked some people out.  They even banned the book.  Banned E.B. White.  Yeah, I’m still trying to wrap my mind around that one.

But I also found it very encouraging.  Except for Stuart Little, the book is very realistic.  Except for Tuck, my story is very realistic.  Same same?  Maybe not.  As much as I’d like to claim kinship, I’ll stick with being inspired.  Realistic stories with strong fantasy elements can work.

Mine may not work yet, but that’s the operative word.  Yet.


May 8, 2017

Book Trailer

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 2:42 am
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Recently I came across the book trailer for Tara Lazar’s Way Past Bedtime.  

Lazar shared a funny story about her trailer.  She was fussing and fuming that she hadn’t gotten it together in time to have a trailer before her book launched.  She fussed and fumed enough that she got the attention of her teen who put together this trailer in one evening.

One.  Evening.

What did it take?  Clearly, she has a program that enabled her to do this.  In this case, it was iMovie.  She had a copy of the book.  And the appropriate music.  And her imagination.

Granted, this is the sort of trailer that is only going to work for a picture book.  Or maybe a graphic novel.

Young adult nonfiction?  Not really.

How could I adapt this approach for my books?  The Ancient Maya could feature images from Mayan ruins.  Spooky images.  Creepy music and prowling jaguar could set the tone.  “Who built these cities and where did they go?”

Honestly, that’s the easy one.  Black Lives Matter?  Maybe a newsroom set up.  Who is this group and where did it come from?

12 Incredible Facts about the Cuban Missile Crisis?  Audio could be news footage and images of kids practicing duck and cover.  “What brought us to this point?  What you need to know to understand the threat of the Cold War.”


What do you need to keep in mind when you put together a trailer?

The tone of your book.  Is your book silly or serious?  Upbeat?

Music.  If you are working with video, don’t forget the audio element.  What type of music can you use to capture the tone of your book?

Images.  A picture book is going to come with images.  But for older nonfiction you have to get creative.

The audience.  If your book is going to have school appeal, you want to create a trailer with visual impact because it may be playing in the background in a school library.

I’ve never made a trailer but this is tempting me to try my hand at creating this all important promotional tool.


May 5, 2017

Fiction vs Nonfiction: The Hybrid

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:14 am
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For the most part, it is fairly easy to categorize children’s books as fiction or nonfiction.  Made up story as in Kelly Barnhill’s The Girl Who Drank the Moon or Linda Sue Park’s Cavern of Secrets?  Fiction, of course.  Just as certainly, books ranging from Stand Up and Sing! Pete Seeger, Folk Music, and the Path to Justice by Susanna Reich to Hitler Youth: Growing Up in Hitler’s Shadow by Susan Campbell Bartoletti that tell factual stories are nonfiction.

But what do you call a story that uses fictional characters to impart information?  Maybe you have a boy and his grandfather plant a garden.  Or a family follows a historic road such as the Nachez Trace.  The only reason these “unreal” people are there is to get something across to the reader whether that something is science, history, ecology or music.

I’ve heard these books called both fiction and nonfiction as well as faction.  Then there is the term “informational.”  More recently I discovered a publisher, The Innovative Press, that refers to ” hybrid texts that blend fiction elements with nonfiction elements.”

One of their books, Zoey and Sassafras: Dragons and Marshmallows by Asia Citro, is the story of a girl who can help magical creatures.  That is, rather obviously, the fiction part of the story.  But there is no veterinary guide on how to do this so she has to use what she knows to ask questions, discover new things, and keep searching for answers in a way that teaches readers about the scientific method.

I have to admit that I like this.  A hybrid.  A mixture of both but neither one or the other.  Of course (sigh), now that I have a name for it, I have an idea that would be perfect for this hybrid form.  After all, the manuscript was inspired by nonfiction research.  With the fictional characters, I can turn the story into something of a reverse scavenger hunt — they have found something that they need to put back but they have to learn beyond their assumptions, observing the natural world, to do so.

I’m still noodling this one over so it isn’t quite ready to draft, but I am looking forward to creating a new-for-me type of manuscript and a fun-for-my-reader story.


May 4, 2017

Resurrecting an Old Manuscript

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:59 am
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Are you one of those writers, like me, who loves working on a new manuscript?  After all, new manuscripts hold the allure of unexplored territory.  The story, as it emerges, is shiny and new and not goofed up.  Ahhhhhh.

That said, there’s a lot to be said for resurrecting old manuscripts.  Not that I think this very often on my own.  Usually I’ll see a call for something and decide to go through my files.  Do I have something to do with the environment?  An early reader that would be good for an ESL audience?  Something that leans heavily on the scientific method?  When I see a call, I comb through my files, looking for something that with just a little work can be ready to go.

The reality is that it makes sense to go through your old stories every now and again.  After all, these are stories that inspired you to start writing even if you never finished them or finished but never sold them.

Why should you revisit them?  Because now you might have the skills that you need to finish an incomplete manuscript or perfect one that is flawed.  That dialogue that felt choppy and robotic?  Now you know how to make it sound authentic.  Two-dimensional characters?  Easy peasy to flesh them out and make them three-dimensional.  If nothing else, coming at an old manuscript with a fresh perspective might be all that you need to make it work.

Then there is also the reality of the market.  A book that was your manuscript’s principal competition may not seem dated.  Refresh yours and get it ready to go.  A new educational market may have opened up or there’s now a new publisher who is looking at chapter books.  The market is constantly changing and there may now be a place for a manuscript that you couldn’t sell three or four years ago.

For more on my own experience resurrecting old manuscripts, check out today’s post at the Muffin.


May 3, 2017

Leaving Room for Your Reader

Leaving Room for the readerRecently I read a post on Litreactor about leaving room in your story for the reader. One of the examples that the author used was a super short piece attributed to Hemingway.  “FOR SALE: Baby shoes, never worn.”

That’s all there is to it and immediately, as the reader, your mind starts reeling out possibilities. Oh no, the baby died!   Or maybe the parents decided against shoes — I don’t know why!  I just like that version better.  Who were they?  Probably poor.  How awful!  With just these six words you start filling in back story, characters, plot possibilities and more.  There was plenty of room for you to fit in and spin the story, making it your own.

Other ways that authors do this is when they don’t give exacting physical descriptions of their characters.  What?!  Yep.  No hair color.  No eye color.  Just vague things — tall, muscular and handsome might be the description of a teen male character coming from another love-struck character.  How does this leave room for the reader?

You allow the reader to picture themself, within reason, as the character.  When I interviewed Simone Elkeles about her young adult romance, Perfect Chemistry, she told me about speaking in a school and having a Latino teen tell her that he was glad her male character was like him, the reader.  Elkeles first thought, wait a minute but she didn’t say anything and later reread the description.  She had described his character and personality, not how he looked.  Because of this, the reader had plenty of room to manuever.

Other ways to leave room for the reader include:

Open endings that allow readers to debate what happens next. These are especially popular in flash fiction.

Heinlein-styled science fiction in which the reader is dropped into the story.  Backstory and other details are revealed on a need-to-know basis.

Telling the story and leaving it up to the reader to determine the moral (also known as “not preaching”).

To make this work in your story, keep it tight.  This doesn’t mean you have to be terse but don’t overwrite.  If it doesn’t have to be in the story in order for the reader to understand, cut it.  Instead, let the reader’s imagination do the work.


May 2, 2017

Are you in a rut? How to jump-start your picture book writing

You know how it goes.  You finish a big job, turning in a book manuscript or doing an editorial rewrite.  Or maybe you’ve just participated in some major life event like a move or graduation.  Whatever the reason, you just can’t seem to get going on another writing project.  It isn’t a lack of ideas.  You’ve got several good ones but you just can’t seem to make yourself write.

Enter PiBoWriWee or Picture Book Writing Week.  The dates for 2017 are May 1 to May 2.  That’s right, we’re already on Day 2.

But even if you’re a day behind, I’d encourage you to jump in.  The water is, as they say, fine.

I’ve been trying to get off my fanny and rough a new picture book for 3 weeks.  I love the idea and spent some time doing the research which is good.  This is the type of story that required research into the setting, the characters and how things might happen.  I finished the research but the writing?  It took me a day to rough out two spreads.  The next three days saw no progress at all.

And then yesterday I saw a tweet on PiBoWriWee.  The challenge is to write 7 picture book drafts in 7 days.  The host is Patricia Yoo and you can find the details here.  The idea is that in 7 days you will draft 7 picture books.  That sounded pretty good to me.  Anything to get my off my unproductive fanny.

So far I’m doing good.  One day.  One picture book.  Given that that is more than I had managed in three weeks.  I’m jazzed.  Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to decide what I’m drafting today.  I have several more ideas and not all of them require research to get started.  For others, a quick draft will help me decide what form the story should take and what needs to be drafted.

I’ve got writing to do.


May 1, 2017

Page Street Publishing: New editor

Are you familiar with Page Street Publishing?  If not, you probably should be.  They are listed as a “fast-growing, independent publisher of 2016” by Publisher’s Weekly.  With a 70 title backlist, Page Street is a general lifestyle publisher with books in health, parenting, crafts, popular science and more.  Many of the books are cookbooks but the children’s list thus far has focused on activity books.  See the article here.

On their website, the company has this to say ab out their growing children’s list. “We are also excited to announce a significant new investment in a children’s program, headed by a 20-year children’s book publishing veteran. This program will include picture books as well as young adult titles for ages 12 and up. Our goal is to discover talented writers and illustrators who create believable and diverse characters, tell riveting stories that resonate with children and young readers, as well as engage with the vibrant children’s and YA book communities.”

I’d love to say that I’ve had great success ferreting out the names of editors at Page Street, but I have found a few including:

Publisher:  Will Kiester

Associate YA Editor: Ashley Hearn, something she commented about on Twitter (see here).

YA Editor: Alyssa Raymond, see LinkedIn.

Check the publisher’s guidelines for information on how to submit nonfiction or YA.  This is a rapidly growing publisher and will be a great opportunity for the right writer!



April 28, 2017

Children’s Book Landmarks

Mark Twain’s desk! And me.

Yesterday, I saw a School Library Journal post on children’s book landmarks being named to celebrate Children’s Book Week.  I hadn’t even thought of that when I wrote yesterday’s post but that’s something else you could do — visit a children’s book landmark.

Two of the “new” landmarks that will be named next week include Quarry Farm, a site where Mark Twain wrote in Elmira New York and the Cherokee Elementary School in Paradise Valley, AZ where a student inspired the Junie B. Jones books. You can read more about these sites and one more here.

Do you have a site in your area that you could visit as part of the week-long celebration?  If so, you could Tweet pictures of yourself (and your books) there.  There are a number of sites here in Missouri, including:

Mark Twain’s Boyhood home in Hannibal, Missouri.  This isn’t where Twain wrote the books, but where he spent part of his childhood. That said, the museum has an awesome display of Norman Rockwell’s illustrations of Twain’s work.

Laura Ingalls Wilder’s home in Mansfield, Missouri.  I loved visiting Rocky Ridge and seeing the house where she wrote her books although I think my favorite display was all the various translations of her books.

Eugene Field House and Toy Museum in St. Louis.  Okay, I don’t think that’s the actual name any more — it is now the Eugene Field House. Eugene Field?  You know — he wrote the poem Wynken, Blynken and Nod.  His father was also the lawyer that managed to get the Dred Scott case before the Supreme Court.  And this little tid bit, of course, gives me a story idea.

What sites are in your area?  Visit one of them this coming week and celebrate children’s books!





April 27, 2017

Children’s Book Week


Children’s Book Week this year is from May 1–7.  Yep.  It starts on Monday.  It snuck up on me!

In celebration of this week, Every Child a Reader encourages authors and illustrators to participate in events in their area. If you are only now finding out about it, I don’t know how possible that will be but you can find a searchable database of registered events here.

What do you do if you aren’t invited to participate in an event? The purpose of Children’s Book Week is to emphasize the value of reading and get the word out about good books.

Promote the Children’s and Teen’s Choice Book Awards.  These are the only national book awards voted on only by kids and teens. They were launched in 2008 by the Children’s Book Council and Every Child a Reader.  Voting is open from March 3 to May 7, 2017.  Young readers selected the finalists which are listed here.  Books are listed in and voted on in four different age categories — K – 2, 3-4, 5-6 and Teen. Young readers can cast their votes by going here and selecting the appropriate award.

What can you do along these lines even if you aren’t part of an event?  Note: These are not the organizations suggestions.  They’re mine, so here you go.

Promote official events in your area on social media.  Check out the link above and see what events are being held in your area.  Promote them on Twitter.  Post them on Facebook.  Say something encouraging to or about the authors and illustrators who are involved.

If you can’t find a local event, you won’t have time to get the posters and other official gear but ask at your local library about helping promote literacy.  Maybe you could offer to do a reading at the local library.  Maybe you can help in a story time.

Imagine what a great world this would be if every child was a reader!



April 26, 2017

“What is your favorite book?”

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:38 am
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“What is your favorite book?”
I shouldn’t be surprised when young readers ask me that, because teachers and other adults ask them the same question. But that’s a tough one for me. I probably had 10 or 20 “favorite books.” I’m not very good about picking out a favorite food or favorite color either.
Here are several of my favorites.
Black Beauty. I was a horse crazy kid so this was a natural for me which means that I also loved …
Everything by Marguerite Henry. My favorite may have been Mustang Wild Spirit of the West or San Domingo Medicine Hat Stallion.
The Boxcar Children. The original. I focused so intently on this, the first book, that I was shocked to find out it was a series. Yep. Writers are nothing if not observant.
Jared’s Island. I bought a remaindered copy of this at a library sale. Anyone who knows me is going to pick up on the name Jared. Yep. That’s where I got it.
The original Tarzan series.  Yes, Edgar Rice Burroughs.  I loved these books and this time around I did figure out that it was a series and I still own every single one of them although some are a bit besmirched.  I bought the last of them from a co-worker who read on the job in a foundry.
Everything by Laura Ingalls Wilder.  These were such a huge hit growing up that my sister and I had matching prairie dresses.  I kid you not at all.
These were my books. My parents and grandparents also had books that I adored.  I spent hours paging through my father’s copy of Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee.  My mother’s family medical encyclopedia was a huge hit because of the human anatomy drawings — I spent hours studying muscles and nerves and organs until she realized there were nudie people and hid the book.  I used to read Gene Stratton Porter books out loud with my grandmother.
And these are just the books that read before I got married.  What is my favorite book?  Too many to name just one!  The key?  They all had adventures that pulled me in and I could imagine myself in their pages.  My friends and I spent countless hours acting out and improving on these books and many more.  A girl can’t be Tarzan?  Pfft.  We never would have believed it and, in all truth, we still don’t.
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