One Writer’s Journey

November 27, 2018

Primary Sources Online: The National Archive and Native American Treaties

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:33 am
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The National Archive in Washington DC

Especially if you are writing nonfiction, but also for fiction, it is a good idea to include primary sources whenever possible.  Primary sources are first hand accounts.  Diaries, letters and even photographs are primary sources.  Primary sources are important because they are uninterpretted.  You get what someone at the scene observed.

This week when I was updating a lesson on primary sources, I popped over to the National Archives. The National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) is the archive of the US Federal Government. This is copies are kept of all documents that are legally or historically vital.  People use this material to research family history, veteran records and topics of historical interest.

Among other things, the Archive’s home page lists newsworthy items.  “Efforts Begin to Digitize 377 Native Treaties.”  What it comes down to is that efforts are underway to scan 377 treaties and supporting material.

One of the goals of the Archive is to make material as accessible as possible.  In this day and age, that means making it digital.

Pamela Wright is the Archives’ Chief Innovation Officer.  “The project boldly addresses three of our agency’s strategic goals: making access happen, connecting with customers, and maximizing our value to the nation,” Wright said. “We currently have over 65 million digital records available in the catalog. With over 12 billion textual records in our holdings, our big hairy audacious goal is to have them all available online one day.”

I have to admit that part of the reason this interests me is that it is hard to find unbiased material about early Native American history.  Because of this, anyone who writes about the contents of a treaty is going to pick and choose the parts that illustrate their own point-of-view.  This is why primary sources are so important and with treaties digitized I’ll be able to see, first-hand, what each of these treaties promised.

Spend some time at the digital archive.  You will find photos, senate and house records, military records and more.  My only warning – don’t do it when you are on deadline unless the research relates to said deadline.  The photographs especially tend to pull me in.



November 26, 2018

How NOT to Pitch Your Work

This weekend, I was reading blog posts and came across one by an editor who explained that certain key phrases in your cover or query letter will bring a hasty rejection.  I was surprised because I had seen warnings about some of them early in my career.  Apparently, the world has not wised up.

For those of you who don’t want to sour the deal before the editor or agent reaches your signature, here are five things to avoid.

  1.  God told me to write this.  Also avoid the variant “God wants you to publish this.” While you may be on a mission from God, telling a potential editor or agent this puts you into a category that you would rather avoid.
  2. I wrote this because I have a lesson kids need to learn.  Work worth publishing may very well contain a lesson but it can’t be preachy or heavy-handed.  Kids need your lesson about respecting their elders.  Wonderful.  In your letter, simply state that you’ve written a book about respect.
  3. Today’s books aren’t as good as the ones I grew up with.  Don’t like children’s literature?  Then don’t try writing for children.
  4. This will be as big as Harry Potter.  Even if you have a great idea, don’t announce that you are the next blockbuster.  Those are notoriously hard to predict.  Will your magical world appeal to fans of Harry Potter?  That’s another matter altogether.
  5. I know you don’t normally publish children’s books, but . . . If you know a publisher doesn’t normally publish children’s books, you should know that they aren’t going to want to look at yours.  Find a publisher that does.

Agents, editors and publishers are all on the lookout for great books.  But they also know that great books are most likely to come from professionals, people who love literature and media as well as their audience.

Impress them with great writing and your professional savvy.  You don’t want to send them the letter that is being discussed in the break room.


November 22, 2018

Happy Thanksgiving

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:59 am
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For those of you who celebrate, I’d like to wish you a Happy Thanksgiving.  Take the time to recharge your creative battery.

I don’t know if this is just a MidWest thing but our Thanksgiving day tends to stretch into Thanksgiving Weekend.  Thursday, we have dessert with my Dad and dinner with my sister and her family.

Friday we’re doing dinner here before my son has to work.

Saturday is lunch with a college friend.

Sunday after church we will have dinner with my husband’s turkey-despising family.

And I have two rewrites for two different books, both under contract. How much work will I get done on either of these project.  Probably not an awful lot because, like I said, Thanksgiving lasts the entire four day weekend.

But that’s okay.  Writing is a career that I love but you definitely need to take a break every now and again so that you have the energy to create.  See you on Monday!


November 21, 2018

Picture Books: Rewriting a Problem Spread

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:41 am
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Recently, I had to polish up a picture book and get it out now.  This wasn’t something I was drafting.  These were fine changes.  Fiddling with word sound and rhythm.

I read my manuscript out loud. After all, a picture book is like a poem.  It has to work when read aloud. Most of my manuscript was fine but two spreads felt off.

I always suspect when I am doing this kind of rewrite that I change something, let it rest, and change it back again.  And then I do it again.  And again.  Maybe if I could keep track of my various versions there wouldn’t be so many.

Do not say “track changes.” NO.  I despise that Word feature.  I use it with my editors at RedLine.  Some areas of the manuscript will have very few marks.  Others have lots and lots of text struck out and added.  While it can be good to see what was removed, a section that has been worked over multiple times can be almost impossible to read in part because I’m mildly dyslexic.  It gets too busy and I can’t follow it.

When a single person uses track changes, it doesn’t always track all of the changes.  That means I can’t go back and see what the manuscript said before.

Fortunately, I found a trick that works for me. I opened up a clean Word document and copied the problem text, pasting it at the top of the page.  Then I pasted it in again and made changes to the second version.  Then I pasted it again and made changes to the third version.  There was no back and forth.  And I never had to rewrite a passage more than three times.

When I was done, I let it sit and then reread all three versions.  There was no guess-work.  No wondering if maybe the first version was better.  I had them all right there in front of me.

Try it and see if it works for you.


November 20, 2018

Change: When It Rains, It Pours

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 3:48 am
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It looks like I’m moving out of my office, doesn’t it?  I have two boxes full of papers as well as a file organizer and several stacks of various things on the dining room table.

Not that I’m moving.  We just contracted with a new internet service.  Something about cutting the bill by 30% and increasing the speed five times.  With me working from home and using a lot of graphics and my son having to use various graphic intense educational programs, it was the thing to do.

But this meant cleaning off a large stretch of desk.  My desk is u-shaped and wraps around the room.

Was it worth it?  I would say so.  I can upload a photo in something like two seconds.  And my office feels much roomier without the stack of papers at my elbow.

So now I want to clean out some more.  But Thanksgiving is later in the week so I can’t leave it all in the dining room.  And I have two rewrites due in the next two weeks.

And it all started because we wanted faster internet.  Where will it all end?



November 19, 2018

Rejection: When I Refuse to Finish an Audio Book

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 3:57 am
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I am a voracious reader.  Between print books and audio books, I have “consumed” something like 130 books so far this year.

That said, every now and then I refuse to finish a book.  If I’m reading it for book club but don’t like it, I’ll skim it.

But this past week, I’ve checked out 5 audiobooks I didn’t finish.  What keeps me from finishing a book?

Recommended but . . . I will pick up virtually any book that someone recommends to me unless I know this is an author whose work doesn’t speak to me.  But that also means that every now and again I’ll pick up a recommended book and realize I’ve made a big mistake.  For example, I do not like romance novels.  A mystery with romance?  That’s great.  An adventure with romance?  I can do that too.  But a romance just for the sake of romance?  It doesn’t matter if it is funny or the setting, I probably will not finish this book.

Narrator error . . . I don’t have to love the way that reader sounds, but it can’t be distractingly irritating either.  I’ve returned books with readers who have no inflection as well as readers who EMOTE.  One reader put so much effort into hamming up various accents that I couldn’t understand her.  Those books also go back.

Out-of-order . . . the last book that I had to take back was a goof up on my part.  I checked out something like book 11 in the Odd Thomas series by Dean Koontz.  Unfortunately, I’m on book #5.  Sometimes I can read a series out-of-order but this was just too off so I’ve requested the next book.

In truth, that’s about it for me.  Otherwise I listen to adult books and children’s books, fiction and nonfiction, translations, classics and more.  I actually like to listen to books about other cultures because then I learn how to properly pronounce names.  Adult nonfiction as an audio book is also often easier than reading.

But every now and again I come across a book I choose not to finish.  But five in a row?  That’s unusual.  Fingers crossed that the next one I pick up holds my attention.


November 16, 2018

Graphic Novels: Why Schools Like Them and Using Theme to Make a Retread Newly Relevant

Working my way through the LibraryCon Live! sessions, I’ve been finding out about a variety of new-to-me graphic novels. (You can register and log in to view sessions  here.)

Victor LaValle’s Destroyer is a Frankenstein’s monster story.  Some of the themes are true to the original (evil’s of science and environmental themes) while others are much more contemporary.  In LaValle’s version, police shootings of young African American’s also come into play.

Olivia Twist by Darin Strauss and Adam Dalva is, as you may have guessed, an Oliver Twist retelling.  It takes place in a dark future London complete with internment camps.

Various authors and editors that I’ve heard speak have discussed theme.  One of the reasons that theme is so important especially in these retellings is that it makes them relevent today.  Trying to interest a publisher in a Frankenstein retelling is probably going to earn you a yawn.  “Oh, another one.”  The trick is to bring in a theme that makes it current.

The beauty is that is not only current, it makes graphic novels useful for classroom discussion.  Where a discussion on police shootings may quickly get emotional when discussing it as a current event, discussing it as literature gives young readers a bit of distance. It is less personal. They are discussing a book vs discussing what is going on in their own neighborhoods and country.

This was an “aha moment” for me but it shouldn’t have been. When I was a newish writer, I remember hearing people talk about why so many picture books features animal characters.  We’re talking fiction stories where the animal characters stand-in for real children.  What we were told, and it still makes sense, is that by making the characters talking bears or whatever, you give young readers just a bit of distance.  A story that might be too scary becomes much less so when the characters are a bit less realistic.

Now I find myself thinking about classic stories.  How could you reboot Dorian Gray or the Hunchback?  What themes would help make these stories current and relatable for today’s young readers?


November 15, 2018

Pitching Your Work

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 12:30 am
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One of the Library.con Live! sessions that I’ve watched was a keynote with author Mariko Tamaki. If her name looks familiar, that isn’t surprising.  She is the author of the New York Times bestseller This One Summer. This particular graphic novel won Printz and Caldecott Honors in 2015 and received the Eisner for Best Graphic Album.

Tamaki explained that more often than not you pitch a graphic novel before you write it.  That means that you have to be able to outline the whole thing (Act 1, Scene 1, Scene 2, etc.) and then follow through.  Part of this means knowing the basics of your story – who, what, where, when and why.

For me, the most interesting aspect was listening to her talk about the why.  Not only do you need to know why things happen in your story, you need to know why you are the author to write it and why now.  This isn’t new advice but Tamaki offered the best explanation I’ve ever heard.

When you pitch your story, you need to be able to tell the potential editor why you and why now.  Why now is a matter of theme.  What is it that makes your story relevent to readers today?  Why do they need your story?

This, obviously, pulls in you.  Why are you the one writer who should write this?  As Tamaki explained, we each pull along our little red wagon behind is.  It is full of all the stuff we bring along to the job.  It can be our interests or our experiences but it is what we bring that will help us write this particular story.

Tamaki also spoke on superpowers and making them relevent to the character.  To see this 30 minute session, register for LibraryCon Live! hereand scroll through the schedule to the lunch time keynote.



November 14, 2018

Free Online Conference

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:50 am

Are you interested in writing graphic novels, science fiction or fantasy?  Then check out LibraryCon Live! You can register here.

If you are like me, a lot of free webinar’s just end up being annoying.  You sign up excited to learn about plot or picture books or magazine writing but all you get is an hour-long ad for someone’s paid course on plot, picture books, or magazine writing. I’ve attended two events so far and at least in my experience Library Journal and School Library Journal events are not like that.

The markets for these events are libraries and librarians.  The editors, authors and illustrators who speak want their books to end up in libraries.  So in that sense they are selling their work but they do it by discussing their work, how what they’ve done relates to the larger body of work, and their creative process.

This event took place on November 7 but the sessions were recorded and archived so you can still register and watch whatever appeals to you.  There is also so much material that you can download – graphic novels, graphic novel samples, catalogs, slides from the talks, discussion guides, teacher’s guides and more.

Sessions include:

A keynote with Victor LaValle, author of Destroyer (BOOM! Studios)

A panel, Women Creators in the Lead with Karen Berger (Editor, Berger Books/Dark Horse), Gwenda Bond (author Stranger Things: Suspicious Minds/Del Rey), Amy Chu (author, Summit/Lion Forge), and
Dana Simpson (author, Phoebe and Her Unicorn/Andrews McMeel)

A keynote with Mariko Tamaki (author Supergirl: Being Super and Harley Quinn: Breaking Glass/DC, Abrams)

A panel, Hosting Your Own Comic Con-style Library Event

A panel, Children’s and YA, with Greg Neri (author, Grand Theft Horse/Lee & Low), Chad Sell (author, Cardboard Kingdom/Random House Children’s Books), Tui Sutherland (Wings of Fire/Scholastic), and Mark Tatulli (author, Short & Skinny/Little, Brown)

A panel, Fan Faves, with Jo Whittemore (author, Supergirl: Age of Atlantis/Abrams), Jeremy Whitley (author, Princeless/Diamond), and F.C. Yee (author, The Rise of Kyoshi/Abrams)

A keynote with Margie Stohl (author, The Life of Captain Marvel/Marvel)

Still not sold? There are also probably 18 (I’m not counting), author’s sessions.  Some of these are video. Some were texts.  All are available for download.  At a glance, I see sessions with Amy Chu and Ryan North (author, Squirrel Girl).

I’ve only watched 3 sessions so far and can’t believe how much I’ve learned.  Definitely worthwhile and I will be looking for more LJ and SLJ conferences and webinars.


November 13, 2018

RIP Stan Lee

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:20 am
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Came back to my desk after lunch on Monday to see numerous posts on the death of Stan Lee.  Sadness.

Three years ago, my husband and I took the MOOC “The Rise of Superheroes and Their Impact on Pop Culture.”  Led by the Smithsonian, it was offered through EdX and included guest lectures by Stan Lee.  Yes, I saved every single one of those lectures.

What impressed me the most was his overall can-do attitude.  When he started at Timely Comics, he was an assistant.  That meant he assisted pretty much everyone at everything.  He filled ink wells for the artists.  He got people lunch.  But he also took advantage of opportunities. He wrote the filler “Captain America Foils the Traitor’s Revenge” which appeared in Captain America Comics #3 (May 1941).  This is where he first used Captain America’s shield as a ricocheting weapon.

By the 1950s he was writing a variety of comics including romance, Westerns, humor, science fiction, medieval adventure, horror, and suspense. When he got the chance to premier a line of superheroes, he introduced something never before seen, flawed heroes who were just a human as they were heroic.

If you get the chance to take the EdX class, I highly recommend it.  Even if you don’t plan to write a graphic novel, this is a new way to think about literature.  Me?  I signed up for the Library Journal Conference all about science fiction, fantasy and graphic novels.  I’ll fill you in on that tomorrow.



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