Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Writing Tip Tuesday

Author Joan Aiken says, in her book, The Way to Write for Children:

If you have found a voice for your book, even if the plot and characters are still at the embryonic stage of development, your battle is half won already.

I couldn't agree more - except to maybe argue that your battle is more than half won already.

At least, that is certainly the case for me.

I am just beginning a middle grade novel.

I'm in that painful, groping-in-the-dark stage - not quite sure of exactly where the story is headed.

Not 100% sure about a couple of characters.

But I know the voice of the book.

I don't mean the writing voice.

I mean the voice of the book - its overall aura - its style - its feeling.

I'm pretty sure my writing voice is fairly consistent - but the voice of my books changes.

Moonpie and Ivy is, for lack of a better word, kind of sad (okay, that's three words).*

Fame and Glory in Freedom, Georgia is light-hearted and friendly.

Greetings from Nowhere is a bit, hmmm, nostalgic? No, that's not the right word. Heart-warming? Yeah, maybe that's better.

But those are really descriptions of mood - which I think is an element of book voice.

Other elements are the rhythm, the pace, the overall tone, the word choice - most of the same elements that make up writing voice.

My current WIP is upbeat and humorous - and decidedly boy-friendly.

I'm 100% sure of the voice of the story.

So that makes it a heck of a lot easier to move forward with the stuff I'm not 100% sure of.

So - my tip?

Be sure of the voice of your book from the get-go. If you waffle along between edgy, humorous, dramatic, sad, upbeat, etc. - your struggle will be greater and your outcome not as rewarding.

*I once had a kid at a school ask me: "Why do you write such depressing books?" So, um, maybe depressing is a better word. Heh.

Monday, September 29, 2008

I heart copy editors

Copy editors (or is it copyeditor?) are the most irritating essential human beings on earth.

I love them.

I want to be them.

Even though they can be so dang irritating.

One of the reasons they are so irritating is because they are always right.

And they are so essential.

I loved this article about copy editor Helene Pleasants.

In case you have too many other blogs to read today and are irritated by yet another link (I'm kind of irritating with my use of the word "irritating" today), this was my favorite part:

Her blue pencil struck at redundancy, at confusion, at authorial vanity, at the wrong and the false word, at the unearned conclusion. She loved good writing, therefore she loved the reader: good writing did not cause the reader to stumble over meaning.

I particularly like "authorial vanity."

I know that I am certainly guilty of that.

And I see it in the work of others.

And speaking of redundancy, at the risk of being redundant.... (now these links are really irritating, huh?)

Good copy editors are worth their weight in gold.

Here's to Paul

I was at the car races in Lime Rock, CT Saturday when I heard the sad news about Paul Newman.

That linked article says: "As late as 2006, Newman was still sneaking over to Lime Rock Park in Connecticut to race."

But they are wrong.

I watched him race last September (2007) - at the age of 82 - and he won!!

So Paul, here's to you!

(I guess I will never be a sports photographer.)

Friday, September 26, 2008


I'm heading out to the Berkshire's for my family's traditional weekend at the races.

Definitely the start of fall for me.

(And my son-in-college is meeting us out there. Yay!)

Thursday, September 25, 2008

The Stalker

If I were ever going to stalk anyone - which I AM NOT - it would be Cynthia Rylant.

For one thing, I adore her writing.

I consider her the person who inspired me to find my own writing voice.

She is notoriously introverted, which fascinates me.

I have spent unhealthy amounts of time trying to find out information about her.

Here are some things I know:

She used to have a white dog named Martha Jane who liked pizza.

She once had a cat named Blueberry.

She worked in the children's department of the Cabell County Public Library in Huntington, West Virginia when she was 23.

She has a son named Nate, who was born "in the oranges and reds of the fall."

For many years, her "sweetheart" was Dav Pilkey.

She likes to go to the movies in the afternoon.

There are 8 boxes of cool stuff of hers in the special collections department at the Kent State University Library, including "an interesting written dialogue between a TV movie producer seeking the rights to Missing May and a reluctant Rylant."

I love that: "...a reluctant Rylant."

(A side note: That library has a cool online feature where you can "talk" to a research librarian in real time. They are amazing and very helpful.)

This is part of the letter she got from ALA when she won the Newbery:

And, I'm saving the best part for last.

She has written me two letters:

(She is recommending a book called I Am One of You Forever by Fred Chappell and anything by James Agee.)

(She is telling me that my novel was "lovely." That is such a perfect Cynthia Rylant word: lovely.)

She signed the first letter "Cynthia" - but she signed the second letter "Cyndi."

See how close we've become?

(Note to Cyndi: I promise I will not stalk you. Call me. Let's do lunch.)

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Had me at hello

Two reasons I am TOTALLY reading this book.

Reason #1: The cover. I mean - dog....cute dog face....say no more....I'm there!

Reason #2: This first line of the Kirkus review (which I cannot read in its entirety because I don't subscribe, so can only read the first part of it):

A motherless girl, a stray dog and a heart-tugging plot—sound familiar? Not so fast—Nuzum's talent shines through to create an original take on a potentially predictable story line

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Writing Tip Tuesday

A large part of revision involves CUTTING.



But I know it's hard to know what to cut, delete, and trash.

One thing to look for is fake dialogue.

Here's what I mean by fake dialogue: Dialogue that is inserted for the sole purpose of informing the reader of something that the characters already know.

I hate that.

Here's a made-up example:

"I'm kind of nervous, aren't you?" Katherine said. "I mean, this is our first time on the middle school bus and since we're in the fifth grade, we'll be the youngest ones."

"Yeah, I'm pretty nervous, too," Mona said. "And we have soccer practice today. We've never been on a real team before. And all the others will be better than us because they went to soccer camp while we had to stay home and babysit."

I hate that.

It's fake dialogue.

The characters already know this information.

If you've got to convey the information to the reader - figure out some other way to do it.


Monday, September 22, 2008


My mother-in-law calls me "Gadget."

Because I love gadgets.

I want them all.

Newer. Smaller. Better. Faster.

Here's my new gadget.

And here's my first video. (Okay, okay....I need a little practice to get better quality, but I'll get there.)

Thursday, September 18, 2008


This post dedicated to Lisa Yee.

I've been busy helping teach some classes at Overhead Projector University (otherwise known as O.P.U.)

Here are some of the gals getting extra credit using the mimeograph machines.

Some people spend lots of money at that fancy schmancy Apple Store to prepare their presentations - when all they have to do is go to any Salvation Army or local dump and forage around for these perfectly good machines.

Then you just pack everything up!

Then you hire a couple of cute guys to load everything into the FedEx Freight truck about 12 days before your presentation.

Be sure your contact at the school you are visiting brings her truck to the airport to pick you up.

That's it!


(Note to any schools hosting a visit: JUST KIDDING!)


I'm such a ding dong.

I have this great book holder thing.

It looks like this:

I love it because it's adjustable and holds all sizes of books or papers and comes apart for storing and is not plastic.

But it has a small ledge at the bottom (to keep the book from falling) - which covers the very bottom of the book by about an inch.

For most printed books, this is not a problem because there is enough of a margin.

But while writing in my writing notebooks - I keep forgetting to not write all the way to the bottom of the page.

So every single ding dang time, when I get to the bottom of the page, I have to lift the notebook up to read it.


Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Check it out

The end of October, I'll be visiting schools in the Iowa City Community School District as part of their Community Reading Month.

One of the sponsors (Hills Bank) designed a logo based on Greetings from Nowhere to be used on T-shirts and other promotional materials.

Pretty cool, huh?

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Writing Tip Tuesday

Once again, I'm quoting author Elizabeth George:

I develop a place that I can own on paper because I want the reader to experience the setting right along with the characters.

Ms. George placed the emphasis on the word "own", but for me, the key word in that quote is "EXPERIENCE".

Setting is critical to enabling the reader to experience the story.

In order to experience the story, the reader must experience the setting.

That means seeing all the little things there are to see: hubcaps in the weeds, dogwood trees in bloom, a bullet-riddled stop sign.

And feeling: the gooey tar on a hot road; the coarseness of a wool blanket.

And smelling: burned toast; honeysuckle; lavender talcum powder.

And hearing: the sprinkler in the yard; the crickets in the garden; the clickety clack of high-heeled shoes

It's critical for the writer to become so totally immersed in the setting that the reader can experience each scene perfectly - like a movie.

Sometimes I find myself with a setting that is very clear to me - in my mind - but is often hard to translate onto the page so that the reader can see it, too.

In order to help me maneuver the character throughout the physical setting, I sometimes draw a little sketch.

Here is the sketch of the setting of The Short, Sad Life of Tooley Graham (my WIP):

This may come as a shock to some of you, but I am no artist. :-)

But that simple little sketch is a big help to me as the main character moves around from place to place.

It helps me to help the reader EXPERIENCE the setting.

Monday, September 15, 2008

The New Writer's Handbook

Guess who has an article in this nifty new volume?


The article is based on one of my Writing Tip Tuesday entries.

Here's the scoop:

The New Writer's Handbook, Vol. 2

edited by Philip Martin
with preface by Ted Kooser (U.S. Poet Laureate)
Scarletta Press (ISBN: 978-0-9798249-2-0)
softcover, 288 pages, 60+ articles

The New Writer’s Handbook, Vol. 2 is an all-new collection of articles (now in bookstores) to refresh and upgrade any writer's skills, with tons of advice on craft and career development. It delivers an eclectic mix of expert how-tos, stimulating pieces on creativity and professional issues, and broad encouragement for aspiring and experienced writers alike.

The 60-plus articles are chosen from best pieces of advice published mostly in the previous year in books, magazines, and online.

Contributors include Tess Gerritsen, Lois Lowry, Ira Glass, and many other bestselling and award-winning authors, plus leading journalists, writing teachers, editors, agents, and literary bloggers.

More info from the publishers catalog here.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Who ya ridin' with?

My husband is a lucky man.

Not because he's married to me (although that certainly helps).

He just is.

I mean - he's the kind of lucky where you pull into the world's largest parking lot at the world's largest mall two days before Christmas - cars are backed up for miles - people are parking in the next county - and as we approach the first row of parking spaces two feet from the entrance - somebody is actually leaving.

That's right.

Loading up the Tickle-Me Elmo's, strapping the kids into the carseats, and backing out.

At which time, my husband turns to me and says, "Who ya ridin' with?"

But there's parking lot lucky and then there's weird stuff like this:

Many years ago, before we were even married, we were in the Honeymoon Capital of the World: Niagara Falls.

We're walking along....

....tra la la.....

.....and a seagull flies right over us.

No, he did not poop on our heads....

He dropped a rabbit's foot!

Right in front of my husband.

I'm not kidding.

A rabbit's foot!

The old proverbial symbol of good luck.

That's the very same one - right there in the photo.

Is that bizarro or what?

(I guess we probably should have played the lottery that night....)

Who ya ridin' with?

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Oh, darn!

I missed out on my $2,500,000 because I forgot to notify Mr. Frank van Boss, my claims afficer.

Shoot! I could've used that money.

Per email received today:


For your Lottery pay out, of $2,500,000.00 in
our just concluded online promotional draw in the month of August
please contact the following information of your claims afficer
more details and claims process.

Mr.Frank van Boss

Just because....

she's so dang cute....

...I had to post this pic.

(That's a marrow bone that she's so gleefully pouncing on...and she is wet from a swim in the pool. Life doesn't get much better than that.)

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Writing Tip Tuesday

From author Elizabeth George:

Anything that attracts attention to itself within your writing is something that's going to take the reader out of the story. Remember: Your objective is to do everything possible to keep the reader in the story. But you have to do it without calling attention to it. A tricky business.

I love this quote and all I can say is: Amen, Sistah!

A real life example:

I critiqued a manuscript for a friend once. A terrific writer. A terrific story. I was reading along and came across a phrase that I loved.

I subconsciously made a mental note of it - in a hey-I-like-that kind of way.

Maybe 50 or 60 pages later, there was the same phrase!

This time, my reaction was: Uh, oh....the writer likes this phrase, too.

Now the writer has intruded into my reading.

The writer has made her presence known.

Which pulled me out of the story.

Not. good.

So, my advice for today is: Be very, very careful about attracting attention to your writing. Don't overuse particular phrases or even words. (Trust me, easier said than done. I've been saved by brilliant copyeditors on more than one occasion.)

Monday, September 8, 2008

Progress report

The Short, Sad Life of Tooley Graham

First draft started 9/2/08

P.S. I started to type "Rough draft" but then I realized I hate that word "rough."

Due to the nature of my writing process, my first drafts aren't really too rough. Now, that's not to say they don't need plenty of revision - but I tend to polish a lot as I go along, so I don't think of them as rough.

The storyline is generally rough - but not the actual writing, if that makes sense.

Semantics, I know....but still.....

Friday, September 5, 2008

Decent and challenging

I was in the children's section of the library today.

There was a mother in there with three children, about 8, 10, and 12.

One of the children (the middle one) was trying to pick out a book.

As he walked through the aisles and studied the shelves, his mother followed him and "judged" every book he expressed an interest in. I couldn't see which books he was choosing, but she kept saying, "No. Pick something decent."

She must have said that five times!

I was so curious about what she meant by "decent."

Finally, she changed her wording and said, "Pick something challenging."

What does that mean? Challenging reading level? Challenging storyline? Challenging theme?

I was so irritated, I wanted to scream: "Just let the dang kid pick out a book he wants to read, for crying out loud!"

(By the way, she deemed books by Bruce Coville to be "decent and challenging." I did overhear that much....although, interestingly, she added, "I've heard he's good." So I guess she hasn't actually read anything by Bruce Coville.)

Thursday, September 4, 2008

How stealing dogs and dating are similar

I've never really paid much attention to the "key phrases" for books on Amazon.

Not all books have them.

Here are some of the "key phrases" for How to Steal a Dog:

string leash
doggie door
gonna steal

Girl Scouts

I clicked on "gonna steal" and was presented with the following books (in addition to How to Steal a Dog):

  • The Professional Bachelor Dating Guide
  • The Game: Penetrating the Secret Society of Pickup Artists

Two of the books that displayed when I clicked on "string leash":

  • Arabic-English Dictionary: The Hans Wehr Dictionary of Modern Written Arabic
  • Magic for Beginners
All I can say is: HUH?

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

A sneaky book

This book sneaked up on me.

I was buying plants at a nursery and a postcard for this book was on the counter by the cash register.

I stuck the postcard in my purse.

A few months later, I got the book from the library.

I love memoirs. I especially love hillbilly dysfunctional family memoirs (The Liar's Club; The Glass Castle).

But I also find myself attracted to memoirs of rather mundane lives.

You know how you get hooked on somebody's blog who just writes about her day-to-day life and you find it oddly interesting and read it every day?

That's sort of how this book was for me.

When I first started it, my reaction was kind of "meh" (as those cooler than me sometimes say) and which translates to "so what?"

I mean, a newly divorced woman who moves into a fixer-upper and bribes her 12-year-old daughter to accept the circumstances by offering to buy her chickens?

So what, right?

But then, somewhere along the line.....I found myself really interested.

Must be a sign of good writing.

One thing I loved about this author is her ability to include the most mundane details that add a rich layer to the story - details that a non-writer might not ever notice - or might notice and not know she noticed, if that makes sense.

For example:

Where furniture used to be were now coins and pens and chew toys rolled in dust.

We've all seen that.

But I think good writers see that in a different way than a non-writer. A good writer sees it and files it away and brings it back so that the reader goes, "Oh yeah! I've seen that!"

The non-writer sees it, does not file it away and does not even remember it until reading it and thinking, "Oh yeah! I've seen that!"

(But then again, SOME writers find this behind their furniture....)

Still Life with Chickens by Catherine Goldhammer

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

The window

My window of opportunity is slowly closing.

Come October, I hit the ground running - school visits, travel, etc.

It's now or never to get a first draft under my belt.

So I'm doing what the brilliant Linda Sue Park says I should do.....no, no, not drink Manhattans and play DDR....
I'm going to write at least two pages every day.

Good pages.

Every day.

No matter what.

(And then, I'm going to drink Manhattans and play DDR.)

Writing Tip Tuesday

From writer Elizabeth George in her book Write Away:

I don't begin until I have an idea. But this idea is more than just a glimmer, more than a potentially evanescent wisp of inspiration. For me, what the idea is is a complete thought that contains one of three elements:

  1. The primary event that will get the ball rolling in the novel
  2. The arc of the story containing the beginning, the middle, and the ending OR (and please note that word OR)
  3. An intriguing situation that immediately suggest a cast of characters in conflict.

If I have one of those three elements, I have enough to begin.

[Note from me: Item #1 up there is, in scriptwriting parlance, the catalyst of the story. In children's books, that catalyst should be as close to the beginning as possible and, ideally, clearly identifiable. The reader jabs a finger onto the page and says, "Here. This is where the story starts."