One Writer’s Journey

October 8, 2018

Font Choice and Readability

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 6:31 am
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A couple of weeks ago, I spent some time on Canva design tutorials.  One of the topics was font as in matching font to message and making things interesting but readable.

Imagine my surprise when my husband sent me an article he had spotted, “Sans Forgetica: The font scientists created to help you recall what you read.”   What it comes down to is this – there is a reason that people don’t learn as well as they should.  We make it to easy for them.  What you need to employ is desirable difficulty.  If they have to put a bit of effort into acquiring the knowledge, they are more likely to retain it.

Whether or not you accept this theory, it is an interesting idea.  I’m a big believer in the idea that you tend to appreciate things if you put some effort into getting them.  But how does that apply to font?

A team of designers and behavioral scientists from RMIT University in Melbourne, Australia worked to create a series of fonts that are more difficult to read.  They then tested these fonts on approximately 400 Australian university students.  The results showed that one font, which the developers named Sans Forgetica was legible enough that people could read it but difficult enough to encourage deeper mental processing and, through this, better retention.

Here is a list I was given to commit to memory this week.

Sans Forgetica

What do you think?  Will reviewing it typed out in Sans Forgetica help?




October 5, 2018

5 Minutes a Day: Writer’s block

No, I’m not saying that you can get beyond writer’s block in 5 minutes.  But if you spend five minutes figuring out why you have it?  Then you’ll know which of these methods to try.

So far this year, I’ve written 6 contracted books.  I’ve rewritten 4 of them.  I’m about to write #7.  I’ve also written one picture book and am about done with another.  And I’m drafting a novel.

Given this schedule, I know what my problem is when I can’t write.  I’m tired.  Physically and quite likely mentally.  I need to apply technique #2.  I need to do something creative or fun and recharge.

But earlier in the year before I met all these deadlines, I couldn’t get the novel outlined.  It just wasn’t happening.  I finally realized that it was because I was intimidated.  I’m good at nonfiction.  Fiction?  Not so much.  Instead of facing the blank page when it was time to draft a scene, a copied a paragraph from the outline.  Ta-da!  The page is no longer blank!  Goofy?  Yes, but the word started to flow.

Solution #3.  That’s what I need to employ when I’ve been writing but something just feels off.  I take a break and fold laundry or walk.  Exciting things like that.  I think about the project.  And very often it becomes clear that I’ve written myself into a corner.  I need to take a new direction.

When you get blocked, spend a few minutes noodling over your schedule, your project, and your emotions.  Once you know where you stand, you’ll have a better chance of getting past that wall.


October 4, 2018

Online Presence: Should You or Shouldn’t You

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:47 am
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Should you take time from your writing life to have an online presence?  The short answer – yes.

Understandably, your first job as a writer should be your writing.  Whether you write poetry, early readers or young adult novels, you need to write.  Most of us have to squeeze writing in between work and our families.  And that can be tough.

But before you start to submit, you need to have an online presence.  Why?  Several times, I’ve had editors admit that they Googled my name before giving me an assignment.  Obviously, I blog.  I’m on Facebook and Twitter.  What I post as a writer let’s these editors know that I’m a professional.  I’ve been around for a while.  I’m not likely to flake out and disappear.

After you start to sell your work, you really need an online presence.  When someone reads something you’ve written, they are likely to search on your name.  Do you want them to find you writing about your work or someone else writing about your work?

There’s also the fact that you want other writers to be able to find you.  When I write articles about writing and books, I frequently interview agents, editors and authors.  Agents and editors are easy to find.  If nothing else, I call the main switchboard where they work.  Sometimes they even answer the phone.

You would probably be surprised how many authors I would love to interview if only I could find them.  A Google search locates their book on Amazon or in a library but the actual author? AWOL.  There is no website, no Amazon Author page, no Facebook, no blog, no Twitter.  This means there is also no interview which would have translated into free advertising for their book.

Your online presence doesn’t have to be huge.  I get it.  Time is a factor.  But set up a Facebook author page where people can message you.  Or set up a super simple web site.  There will come a time that you need to be found or you are going to miss out.



October 3, 2018

Occupations: The ones you feature in your writing say a lot

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 12:27 am
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Recently I saw an interesting post by Becca Puglisi about character occupation.  She and Angela Ackerman have an online Occupation Thesaurus available for writers.  Each entry is an occupation and it includes an overview of what this occupation does, the training required, positive personality traits that might be associated with this characteristic, negative traits, and sources of friction . . . and much, much more.

Her post soon had me thinking about the occupations we choose for teen characters as well as adult characters.  In the published books I read, I see a lot of writers and teachers.  There’s also a steady stream of librarians.  I’ve gotten to the point that my first reaction when I see one of these occupations is to think that the writer should have tried a little harder.  Maybe turning to the Occupation Thesaurus would help.

But I think it is also essential to think about what these occupations have in common.  Answer – these people all tend to be fairly well-educated and middle class.

If we are trying to portray a wide range of people in our books, this is something to think about.  What other jobs might your characters have?  Obviously, to write about it, you have to know something about it.  So let’s start with the people I’m related to – I could employ a teacher, a writer, heavy equipment operator, a lawyer, a contractor, a nurse, a nurse’s aide, a forensic tech, a cross-country bus driver, someone who paints cars, a mining engineer, an aircraft electrician, a police officer, a volunteer fireman, a ranch manager, and a social worker.

Take a look at that list and you are going to see a full range of educational levels and socioeconomic levels.  That’s the great thing about my family.  We’re all over the place.  As you can see, we have both of the fall-back occupations – writer and teacher.  But we also have much, much more. And that’s not even taking into account my in-laws.

When you assign occupations to your characters, think about what the occupations mean in terms of education, time period, and socioeconomic status.


October 2, 2018


Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:49 am
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Push your limits creatively.  I give this advice to other people all the time so I decided it was time to take it myself.  I am taking part in Inktober.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with Inktober, it is a challenge designed to encourage artists to improve their style/technique/talent and develop a habit of drawing daily.  There is a month-long list of prompts (see left).  You can pencil your drawing first and then ink it but the goal it to ink and share.

Yeah.  I was all jazzed up to do this but I had yoga.  When I came home, I searched Twitter for @Inktober.  Oh, wow.

I’m a lot less jazzed now.  The work is varied and STUNNING.  Simply stunning.  Granted, some of the participating artists seem to ignore the prompt completely.  That or I am way to literal.  Which is also a distinct possibility.

Intimidated or not, I am still going to do this.  Why?

I used to draw.  In fact, it is how I made my living in college.  I illustrated archaeological reports.  Since it quit that job?  I almost never draw.

Add to this the fact that I seldom write just for fun.  I need to do something creative for fun so . . . I may be entirely outclassed but I’m going to do it.  Like my grandaddy always said, “This child has got way more gumption than sense.”  I’m going to proceed as if that was a compliment.

I’ve been playing with the idea of fairy tales and fables in part because of this interview I did over on WOW. I’ve also been reading up on how to write graphic novels and comics.  It is a form that fascinates me.  So I’ve been thinking a lot about those art styles.  At this point, I have no art style . . . by the end of the month?  I’ll probably still not have a style but I’ll have 31 really bad ink drawings.

For today’s prompt, I immediately thought of the poison apple in Snow White.  This also prompted an idea for a picture book (The Poison Persimmon: An Ozark Cinderella) and a political cartoon.  I have yet to try to draw the political cartoon, but here is my first pen and ink drawing.

I may not be a budding illustrator, but ideas for two drawings and a picture book?  Not bad.  What creative things do you do for fun?



October 1, 2018

Creating an Invoice

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 2:43 am
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invoiceNot too long ago, one of my writing friends contacted me.  “Help!  I have to invoice the publisher to get paid.  I don’t even know what an invoice looks like.” 

More and more publishers seem to be requiring writers to invoice in order to get paid.  I do this for all of the books that I write for RedLine.  With some publishers you’ll send to invoices per book – one mid-way through the process and one when you complete it.  Others want only one invoice upon completion.  Either way, what they want is pretty straight forward.

Below is my basic invoice.  I’ll explain the various sections after the sample.


From:   (Name)  
(Street Address)
(City, State and Zip)
(SS #)

To:    (Publisher)  

RE:  (Billing for what?)  Slip the book or article title or the contract number in here.

(Unit)                                                       $(Value)  What exactly did you do?  

Total Payable: $(Total)
Date of Invoice: (Month, Day, Year)

(Repeat of name and address, city, state zip)

Now for some explanation.  

From.  This is obviously your information.  Be sure to include it and be sure it is correct.  You don’t want your check ending up in someone else’s mailbox. 

To.  Who you are billing.  If it is a snail mail/hard copy,  I include the addy.  Normally the e-mail is enough.

RE.  What is this bill for.  Don’t get really specific here.  I include the book or article title.  If I have a contract number that goes here as well. 

UNIT/VALUE. It is important to be as specific as possible about what this bill is for.  When I turn in something to RedLine, the unit line usually reads something like:

Evolution of Mammals Chapter 1, outline, working bibliography.  $XX.XX

If this was for a series of activities, it would have to list them all as well as the pay for each.  That is what I had to do when I submitted a group of activities to Education. com.  So it might say something like this:

Felt Heart activity and Photo                        $25.00

Hoop game and Photo                                    $25.00

Counting activity and 2 Photos                     $30.00

TOTAL                                                                $80.00

Obviously, if the publisher that you are billing has different instructions, follow them!  But if they just ask for an invoice, this will give you something to use as a template.


September 28, 2018

Middle Grade: Not a Narrow Designation

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 4:45 am
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judy moodyYesterday I posted about writing age appropriate middle grade fiction.  Not only is it made difficult because what one person thinks is age appropriate is completely inappropriate in someone else’s estimation, but “middle grade” covers a really wide audience.

Characters in younger middle grade books are 8 to 10 or 2nd through 4th grade.  An eight year-old is involved in home life but also involved with their friends.  They don’t hang out yet.  They play.

A nine-year old is more likely to seek approval.  They work toward being liked.  Hanging out with friends is a big deal and this is where many of them start to split off – boys with boys and girls with girls.

greenglass houseCharacters in older middle grade books are 10 to 12 years old or 4th through 6th grade.  Ten years-old is where some girls start to have growth spurts.  But not all of them do.  They are also understanding how their behavior affects others.

By twelve?  The girls have “blossomed” and totally left the boys behind.  This may mean treating the boys like little kids.  Skin is also going haywire and many kids start to get self-conscious about their appearance.

Look at my description of a twelve year-old.  Now look at the one for an eight year-old.  There’s a world of difference.  And that’s why middle grade books are so hard to categorize.

Younger middle grade books include the Stink and Judy Moody books as well as Cornelia Funke’s books.  Think fantasy.  Think adventure.  T

Older middle grade titles include Raymie Nightingale by Kate diCamillo, Wonder by R. J. Palacio, Greenglass House by Kate Milford, and The Miscalculations of Lightning Girl by Stacy McAnulty.  These characters deal with illness and death.  One or more of them may be in danger.  Remember, these kids are young teens.

This diversity is why it is so important to pin point your audience.  You aren’t going to write a book that appeals to the full range so you need to know who your target reader is.  What’s right, and acceptable, for one won’t be for another.  And that’s okay.  Twelve year-olds and eight year-olds each need their own books.



September 27, 2018

Age Appropriate Fiction: How Much Is Too Much?

I have to admit that I almost never look at reviews of my own books, but I do read reviews of other author’s books that I enjoyed.  Today I popped over to Amazon to check out the reviews of Kate DiCamillo’s Raymie Nightingale.  This is the summary from the library web site.

“Hoping that if she wins a local beauty pageant her father will come home, Raymie practices twirling a baton and performing good deeds as she is drawn into an unlikely friendship with a drama queen and a saboteur.”

If you know Kate DiCamillo’s work, you know that it is going to be quirky.  Really quirky.  But this isn’t one of her Mercy Watson books so it will probably deal with some heart-felt moments.  And you’ll laugh, really hard.

Unfortunately a number of people who bought the book on Amazon don’t have a clue about DiCamillo.  They objected to the “mature content.”

Now if you haven’t read the book and you are going to have a fit about spoilers, do not read any more.  Seriously.  Go Back!  Here there be spoilers!

If you are still reading, I am going to assume that you read my warning.  If not?  Ah, well.  I tried.

I don’t know exactly what the worrisome content was.  Oddly enough, there was a lot of fussing but few specifics.

That said, a lot of adults get fussy when fictional parents behave badly.  In this book Raymie’s dad run’s off with a dental hygienist.  Beverly gets smacked by her mother.

Why don’t I think these things are age inappropriate?  First of all, this is a middle grade novel.  The readers are 5th and 6th graders.  They’ve seen things.  We may not be happy with all of those things but they still happen.  Second is how DiCamillo deals with these things.  We don’t see what happens between Beverly and her mom.  The reader only sees the bruise.  We are kept a distant from this harsh reality. We also hear about Raymie’s dad after the fact.

We are not kept at a distance when Louisiana nearly drowns.  Don’t panic.  Raymie saves her.  But it is a tough section to read.

But I think that part of the reason that DiCamillo is so popular is that she trusts her readers with these kinds of truths. Life is tough. Scary things happen.  She gives her readers a change to experience these realities in print vs cinematically which is even harder.  And she also trusts them to be able to handle it.

In addition, DiCamillo’s sense of humor makes it all easier to take.  Her characters are quirky and they sometimes do truly bizarre things.

A bit of distance and humor can make a lot of things less scary.  Not every reader is going to love this book but that’s okay.  For those who need this type of book, DiCamillo has created something that will pull them in even when they are on the edge of their seats.


September 26, 2018

POV: Working with Third Person

Third person shouldn’t feel this distant.

Recently my novel suffered a POV failure. I’m writing this in third person limited.  Although the novel is in third person, everything is in the point of view of my main character.   Every now and again we get her thoughts but we don’t get anyone else’s.  We see things through her eyes, but she isn’t the narrator.

What could possibly go wrong?

After not having time to work on the novel for about a week, I dove back in.  About half way through my chapter, I realized it felt too distant.  I wrote what my character saw.  I related conversations.  But her feelings were absent. Instead of feeling like her POV, this was more distant, like drone footage.

To avoid this the next time I drafted a chapter, I spent a few minutes contemplating what my character wanted to get done in this particular chapter. What were her goals?  While I knew what was happening in the problem chapter, I’m not sure my character actually had any goals. Events felt like they were swirling around her.

With this goal in mind, I also spend some time considering her emotions.  How did she feel about being in this situation?  The reality is that while she chose Door A over Door B, she hadn’t planned on needing to pick a door at all.  Her life is in a state of change she didn’t see coming.  How does she feel about that?  How does it impact what is going on in this scene?

Now that I had a handle on her emotions, I could get out my Emotion Thesaurus.  If you don’t know this book, it is a handy guide written by Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi.  Look up an emotion, such as worry, and you’ll find a list of physical and mental responses.  Go through the list and find several that feel natural for your character.  With set emotions in mind and this book in hand, your worried character can do more than chew her lip while your angry character goes beyond clenching her fists.

Third person shouldn’t feel distant.  Getting up close and personal with my character before I started writing helped me to get up close and personal in the scene itself.


September 25, 2018

The Thought Police: Banned Books Week

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 2:06 am
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I normally write one post a year about banned book week but this year? This year it feels critical in a way that it never has before.

During my son’s sophomore year in high school, he brought home a list of books and a permission slip.  They each had to read a banned book and do a presentation on it.  Parent’s had to OK whatever book their child chose.

We went over the list together.  I pointed out some books I really enjoyed.  He told me which ones he thought were interesting and chose one that I have on my shelves.  Fahrenheit 451.  Irony abounds.  A book about censorship and thought control required a permission slip but there was something else I had noticed. Across the bottom, I wrote the teacher a note.  “Funny that you require a permission slip now.  Your curriculum abounds with banned books.”

Later, my son told me that when she read that she laughed.  She just wanted parents to realize how commonplace banned books are. They aren’t “out there” and they aren’t “extreme.” They’re books about people who aren’t like the would-be banners.  sometimes they are books that make you think.  Some are pure entertainment.

Banning books is censorship.  It is silencing a voice.  It is an attempt to control minds.  I remember when I was a teen.  I’d get aggravated at someone and wish out loud they would “just be quiet.”  Mom just shook her head. “That’s not how freedom of speech works. If you get it, everyone gets it.”

As polarized as our society has become, I can’t help but think, more people really should have listened to my mom.  Celebrate freedom of speech. Take a trip to your library this week.  Pick up a banned book.




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