Friday, November 30, 2007

Phase 2

Okay, now off to my editor.....gulp....

I hate this part....waiting....waiting...wondering....nervous...what was I thinking?...this thing stinks....and I call myelf a writer!....

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Dead matter

I usually enjoy each phase of a book's life. But there's something about getting that package in the mail saying, "Enclosed herewith is your dead matter" that gets me every time.


Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Amazing fifth graders

I teach a fifth grade workshop in which the kids interview a parent or grandparent and then write a three-chapter biography.

We talk a lot about the importance of good beginnings.

We also talk a lot about how a biography is a story - so that while it is based on fact, it should be written in a story-like way.

Check out some of these samples of opening paragraphs of biographies written by fifth graders:

  • Thwack, jump, 47. Thwack, jump, 48. Thwack, jump 49. Sherry was a born jump roper. Ever since she was born, August 6, 1949, Sherry had been an active child.

  • Pink balloons fluttered in the breeze on the mailbox at 27 Hawkins Place.

  • Stroke, stroke, dab, dab. An artist was at work. A masterpiece was being painted. Sonia Hutchins had a passion for art.

  • As Jake climbed to the top of the tall pine tree, he could make out the large water tank in the distance. Welcome to Concord was painted in red on the side.

  • Six-year-old Karen Hastings dashed out to the car, anxious to be on time for her tennis lesson. Ever since she was born, June 9, 1952, Karen had loved tennis.

  • Patricia Ann Garrison was born in the middle of March of 1957 and was the middle of five. She slept in the middle bunk, played in the middle of the street and loved the middle of summer.

I mean, we're talking FIFTH GRADERS, folks!!!

P.S. That last example was written by a rough, tough hockey-playing fifth grade boy. I think it's pretty remarkable.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Writing Tip Tuesday

Stories are more interesting when they don't proceed in a straight line from Point A to Point Z.

They are much more interesting when they veer off course from time to time.

These off-course veerings (is that a word?) are known in script-writing as turning points.

Turning points help keep the momentum of the story up and add interest.

A turning point might:
  • Turn the action or the focus in a new direction
  • Raise the central question or problem again
  • Be a critical action on the part of the main character, or
  • Be when the character makes an important decision or comes to a critical realization
An example from my book, Fame and Glory in Freedom, Georgia, is when Harlem walks out of the spelling bee.

An example from How to Steal a Dog is when Georgina and her family arrive at the abandoned house and find that it has been boarded up. Another turning point occurs when Georgina goes back to the old house to feed Willy and he is gone.

So, surprise the reader once in a while. Throw in a turning point to shift the action into a new direction.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Christmas tree tradition

The day after Thanksgiving, we went to the Christmas tree farm we go to every year to tag our tree. We take the dogs so they can run. There's a cranberry bog there. The man who owns the tree farm loves to ballroom dance. He lives in the house he was born in over 80 years ago.

This is the shed with the tags and the saw to cut the tree down. You just leave a check on the workbench:

Saturday, November 24, 2007


I definitely had many things to be thankful for on of which was the day I shared with my family at an amazing restaurant. We don't have extended family nearby, so for the last few years, the three of us have been going down to Cape Cod.

This is the view from the front door:

A cookie house replica (which was actually a "melba toast" replica):

The front porch:

My plate at the buffet dinner. Where's the turkey? Where's the stuffing? Where's the cranberry sauce? Who cares!? There's the sushi. There's the oysters. There's the shrimp. There's the mussels. There's the crab cake. There's the.... you get the picture. And I went back for seconds. (Hey, this was a buffet!)

Friday, November 23, 2007

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Web site back up

I told you my web site would be back up before you ate your pumpkin pie!

Happy Thanksgiving!

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Web site down

If anybody is trying to get to my web site - it is temporarily down.

Hope to be up and running by the time you finish your pumpkin pie.

Before and After

I think one of the best ways to help kids understand specific writing techniques, such as "Show, Don't Tell" - is to present them with examples of before and after revision.

Over the years, I've collected some great samples of revisions done by fifth graders that illustrate their grasp of the "Show, Don't Tell" technique.

Check these out (from workshops in which the kids - fifth graders - write biographies of a parent or grandparent):

Before: Bob wasn't happy when his father told him they were moving.

After: Bob's father came in and announced, "We're moving." Bob groaned when he heard the news.

Before: John loved to play baseball with the kids in the neighborhood.

After: As soon as John got home from school, he dashed back to his room to grab his baseball mitt, then hurried to meet his friends in the vacant lot next door.

Before: She was good at swimming.

After: Swimming medals covered her bedroom wall.

Before: Sam loved to go to the Cape every summer with his family.

After: Sam counted the days until his family would load the beach chairs and boogie boards into the car and head for the Cape.

Before: He hated doing chores, like vacuuming, washing dishes or raking.

After: He groaned when he had to vacuum. He whined when he had to wash dishes. He grumbled when he had to rake.

Before: His favorite subject was geography.

After: He loved it when the teacher whacked her pointer on the map, pointing out countries and rivers.

For any kid who didn't quite "get" Show, Don't Tell, hearing these usually lights the old proverbial light bulb for them.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Writing Tip Tuesday

In scriptwriting, the term development refers to the part of the story between the set-up and the climax.

The development:
  • Is made up of scenes that advance the story until you get to the climax, but not in a straight line or at the same pace (more on that later)
  • Reveals more about the characters
  • Usually contains more backstory
  • Consists of action that revolves around the central question or problem
  • Consists of interconnected scenes (not episodic)
  • Should stay focused on the story line.
In scripts, individual scenes should start at the latest point possible.

The mother of all rules = Don't slow the pace with unnecessary STUFF.

The mother of all rules #2 = Don't dawdle in the scene. Get in and get out.

Next Writing Tip Tuesday: turning points.

Thursday, November 15, 2007


I took part in a terrific authorfest at a school in Massachusetts. There were five authors. All grades (K-8) got to see several presentations.

The librarian did everything right - balloons, fresh flowers, a "snack room" for the authors, a school-wide special lunch (which included parents), a book fair, a book signing, and so much more. She even made special little booklets with blank pages so that when the authors signed their books for the kids, the kids could sign the author booklet!

A school visit made in heaven!

One of several displays throughout the school.

(left to right) Janet Zade of Zade Educational Partners (my booking agent), school librarian Janice Griffin, me

(left to right) Janet Zade, Janice Griffin and author/illustrator Brian Lies

(left to right) me, Janet Zade, author/photographer Darlyne Murawski, Brian Lies

Authorfest continued

Author Mark Peter Hughes and me

Author/illustrator Brian Lies and author Kim Marcus

Author/illustrator Denis Roche (right) with her sister

(left to right) Mark Peter Hughes, me, Janet Zade, Brian Lies, Darlyne Murawski

Janice Griffin and faculty-member Zack Giallongo

Popping the cork

... the champagne cork, that is.

How to Steal a Dog has been named a School Library Journal Best Book of the Year.


And.....that's not all..... has also been named an ALA Book Link's Lasting Connections for 2007. (This is Book Link's annual roundup of the year's best books to tie into the curriculum.)

Woohoo again!!!

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Who needs Victoria's Secret?

I realize this is Shameless Self-Promotion, but how can I not announce that I have been declared a Hot Woman of Children's Literature by the one and only Kirby Larson!

I mean, sheesh, I'd be happy to be a Warm Woman. :-)

And what more can I say about Kirby but that I attribute her and Sarah Miller with pushing me right over the edge into historical fiction.

I adored Hattie Big Sky.

Just sign me, Sizzlin' in Seattle (except that I don't live in Seattle, but, oh well...)

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Serious addiction

I am seriously addicted to this.

I put it on salads.

I put it on couscous.

I put it on baked potatoes.

I put it on fish.

It has 14 calories per tablespoon. FOURTEEN!

There are 22 tablespoons in the whole bottle.

I could drink the entire bottle for only 308 calories.

Writing Tip Tuesday

According to scriptwriting formulas, in addition to the central question and the catalyst (inciting incident), backstory is also a critical element of the setup of the story.

Backstory is:
  • the stuff that happened before your story starts
  • all the vital information we need to orient us to the story

Backstory is sometimes also interspersed throughout the story. (Often, backstory needs to be interspersed throughout the story in order to maintain the emotion of the story - or perhaps the tension. But you need to gauge how much is too much and how much is just the right amount to accomplish your goal.)

Rule #1 regarding backstory = Don't give the reader too much!

We only need the information that clarifies or enhances the story in some way.

If backstory doesn't clarify or enhance the story in some way, we don't need it and the reader won't care about it.

If we don't need it and the reader doesn't care about it, take it out!!

Monday, November 12, 2007

The end

In an interview with Lisa Yee over at HipWriterMama, Lisa said:

"I always write my endings first and then write my way toward them. It’s always the first 50 pages that cause me the most difficulty. So I overwrite and then cut, cut, cut away."

That sounds absolutely heavenly to me.

I confess that my first reaction was a jealousy so severe I longed to crush Peepy with my bare hands. (You must visit Lisa's blog to understand that.)

But, fortunately, that feeling was short-lived and I moved on to feeling the love of Lisa for showing me the possibility of a new and heavenly writing process.

Having just come out the other end of a torturous tunnel of hair-tearing, tandrem-inducing, blindly-barreling-through first draft with no vision of the end in sight until the last lap, well, I've decided that from now on, I'm going to write like Lisa Yee.

I'm going to write the ending first.

There, that was easy.

Now, excuse me while I dial up Lisa and find out how the heck she does that....

"Peepy? Oh, hi...Barbara O'Connor here. Is Lisa there?"

Blogging for a Cure Week 5

The schedule for week five of Blogging for a Cure (Robert's Snow fundraiser for cancer research) is in the sidebar to the right.

Friday, November 9, 2007

Feelin' the love

I'm conducting a biography writing workshop with fifth graders at a wonderful school in Canton, MA. This is my fourth year at that school.

These folks are 100% committed to this program and are a joy to work with. And the children reap the rewards by producing terrific biographies of parents and grandparents, experiencing the pleasure of mastering a new skill and "kickin' it up a notch" with their writing.

Yesterday those good folks gave me a birthday party - complete with the best dang cake ever!

I am so feelin' the love!

(Going around table, starting on the left, are: Nancy Mark, Margaret Mansfield, Betsy Persson, Jennifer Henderson, and Jan Chamberlain)

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Turkey for Thanksgiving

Look what came to visit my birdfeeders! Gobble, gobble, gobble.

The Fabulous Moolah

Okay, I confess.... I had never heard of The Fabulous Moolah until today. (Oh yeah, like you have...)

She was a wrestling champion who died yesterday. I heard an interview with her on NPR today. The woman is awesome!

First of all, she's from my home state (South Carolina) - from a town I've never even heard of: Tookiedoo (don't you love that!).

When she started her career, she was known as Slave Girl Moolah.

She is one bad dudette. She talked on and on about how she never follows the rules of wrestling and how she loves to wrestle men and choke 'em and gouge their eyes and hit 'em below the belt.

I am so using her in a book some day.


How disciplined was I today, you ask?

Well, see that package?

That's a brand new MacBook laptop.



Waiting patiently.

Now THAT is discipline!

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Nipped and tucked

Making progress. Twenty-six chapters all neat and tidy - color-coded with those cute little pushpins.

My timeline all worked out.

Copyedited to the max.

But still one little itty bitty problem - a great big nasty note to myself in the last chapter that says:


But what?

As I raced toward the ending, something misfired.

Something fell off the wagon.

Something isn't right.

But what?

Writing Tip Tuesday

How to Kill a Story in 16 Easy Steps

Step 1: Start the story too early.

Step 2: Take too long to set up the story and introduce the central question.

Step 3: Add too much back story.

Step 4: Have an unclear central question (i.e., the reader isn’t sure what the story is about).

Step 5: Tell the story with narrative instead of showing it with action and dialogue.

Step 6: Have no turning points (i.e., the story moves from one scene to another in a straight line).

Step 7: Continue on too long after the climax.

Step 8: Have an undeveloped character with unclear (or no) motivation.

Step 9: Tell character traits, tell character feelings, tell setting (instead of showing).

Step 10: Make sure the character is not active in moving the story forward, is not instrumental in solving the problem, and does not grow or change by the end.

Step 11: Switch points of view.

Step 12: Add too much interior monologue.

Step 13: Add unnecessary words, sentences, paragraphs, scenes, characters.

Step 14: Repeat yourself.

Step 15: Explain yourself.

Step 16: Use too many dialogue tags, tags that explain (e.g., he apologized), tags that don’t denote speech (e.g., she sighed; he smiled), or tags with –ly adverbs (e.g., she said reluctantly).

Sunday, November 4, 2007


Remember how I told you I had OMD (Obsessive Manual Disorder)?

Here's more proof: Saturday we had some major weather here in New England (the remnants of Hurrican Noel). We lost our power from about 3 in the afternoon until about 8 o'clock the next morning.

I am not a good pioneer.

I will never be seen on Survivor.

I need electricity.

So about 4:30 - it's getting very dark in the house (and very COLD).

My husband is taking a NAP. (I haven't taken a nap since I was three years old.)

What did I do?

I read the manual to my new computer printer (with a HIGHLIGHER!!).

I'm not kidding.

(Oh, and I also played a few hundred games of Super Mario on my Nintendo DS until the batteries wore out....)

Blogging for a Cure Presents Robin Brickman

Today I am honored to feature a good friend and brilliant artist, Robin Brickman. Robin is one of the generous artists participating in the Robert's Snow project to raise money for Dana Farber cancer research. Her beautiful snowflake will be included in the online auction.

(There are many more artists participating in this event, so please check them out.)

Robin has been illustrating children's books for over 20 years. She is perhaps best known for her breathtakingly beautiful and detailed cut-paper collages of nature books for children.

Her books have been recognized with many awards, including a Reading Rainbow selection, IRA Teachers Choice, the Giverny Award for best children's science book.

Her books include A Log's Life (Simon and Schuster), Beaks, and One Night in the Coral Sea (Charlesbridge).

She has a new book coming out in February 2008 that is magnificent:

And now, an interview with Robin:

How did you get involved with the Robert's Snow project?

I am a member of PBAA, an internet children's illustration group. The snowflake project was announced by Grace Lin on that group's website, when it first started in 2005. I had already been interested in a fund-raiser involving my art, but I wanted to contribute to one that would have higher or national visibility. As the story behind Robert's Snow became known I was truly moved to be able to contribute. I'd like to mention that the snowflake I made for the 2005 auction was created in memory of Mathias Jessup Bartels, who died suddenly at the age of 17. Purchasing that snowflake became a focus for many people who knew and loved Mathias. It was given to his parents and the contribution of the purchase price went to Dana Farber for cancer research.

How did ten-year-old Robin answer the question: What do you want to be when you grow up?

I was going to be a lot of different things, like a veterinarian or interior designer, but I kept coming back to art. I considered art conservation in college, and although I have a great deal of patience for fine and careful work, I did not excell at the math and chemistry needed for that profession. All these years later, however, I bet I could do it.

What are some of your earliest memories of creating art?

I have always loved making things with my hands: sewing and other fiber arts, jewelry, paper-making, bookbinding, stained glass, callligraphy, and illumination. All of these interests came into play when I started to illustrate stories and science.

Tell us a bit about your college experience?

I did decide on a major combining botany and art, something I continue to do even now!

Your road to children's book publication in six (or ten or a hundred) easy steps?

I don't know of any sure fire road to pubishing success other than developing a solid portfolio that is truly your own style and one that will impress your professional peers. There are wonderful books and groups available for information that did not exist when I started out. However, there are so many people trying to get going in this profession, sometimes it helps to not know how hard or unlikely it is. Finding what resources work for oneself, is trial and error.

Any particular inspirations, heroes or mentors?

What helped me was joining WMIG, twenty years ago. The monthly meetings, at one another's studios, are a mixture of critique and inspiration. I created my 3-D technique in part to impress that very skilled group of illustrators.

Will you share with us the story behind your most recent published book?

My next book is WINGS! It is a sequel to BEAKS! Sneed Collard has written a wonderful set, and these two books are a part of that.

Anything in the works at the moment?

I am working on a few book ideas of my own and being both author and illustrator is my next goal.

Anything you've learned along the way that you can share with newbies?

Persistence and optimism is key! When things don't work out, find the right people in your life to help you get going again.

And now, drum roll, please.....Robin Brickman's beautiful snowflake:

Friday, November 2, 2007


I did it! I typed those two little words.

You probably can't read that. So I'll enlarge those words here:
But, all you writers out there know, this is hardly "the end."

But, hey, it's a start!

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Texas Bluebonnet Award

How to Steal a Dog
has been nominated for the 2008-2009 Texas Bluebonnet Award.


A rite of passage

Yesterday I performed a satisfying ritual. I put all the notes and manuscripts and revisions and letters pertaining to Greetings from Nowhere into a labelled box and put it up on the shelf with the others:

It's kind of scary how organized I am, isn't it?

I love those boxes. They come from Ikea and they're cheap and perfect and have those great little label holders on them. So satisfying.