Thursday, December 27, 2012

Things I Love Thursday


I love teachers!

Especially teachers who share the joy of reading with students with such infectious energy and fun as third grade teacher, Mrs. Maiese.

And how in the world could I NOT love her for writing me the following letter:

Hello there from Titus Elementary School in Warrington, PA!

My class and I have just finished reading Popeye and Elvis (which is a ritual for my classroom each year).  The kids have named your book their favorite book of. all. time.  Any time I picked up your book to read, you could absolutely hear a pin drop… if it weren’t for the slurping sounds of them drinking Yoo-Hoo J

In appreciation for you and your book, we would like to send you something via snail mail.  Is it possible to get a mailing address to which we can send you something?

Thank you so much for inspiring a love for reading, writing, suspense, and Yoo-Hoo!

We appreciate your time.  You are a celebrity to us all.

Happiest of holidays to you,

Mrs. Jillian Maiese
Third Grade

And then, as if I didn't love her enough, she added this to a follow-up email:

My former students loved your book so much they still talk about it.  Whenever I have to leave any former student a note of some kind, I always attach a box of Yoo-Hoo to it.  It’s just created so many fun and meaningful ways to communicate with my kids. 

Thank you, Mrs. Maiese, for encouraging readers like these:

Mrs. Maiese's third grade readers

I love teachers.

I love kids.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Things I Love Thursday

This ratty old thing I'm wearing is called a blanket cardigan.
I got it from Eddie Bauer a million trillion years ago.

I really do love it.
It's sort of like a cross between, um, a blanket and a cardigan.
It's warm and cozy.
(Don't worry, I never wear it out of the house.)

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Writing Tip Tuesday

The ending of your story is critical.


But what I mean by "the ending" doesn't mean just the end of the storyline.

I mean the feeling the ending leaves the reader with.

That feeling is critical.



How do you want your reader to feel after reading the final page of your book?

One thing that contributes to the feeling left by the ending is whether or not the reader is left with a memory of how the story evolved.

That is often accomplished by providing a connection to the beginning of the story, even at the end.

Does that make sense?

I'm going to offer up a personal example that may seem rather trite, but to me, it is a good example of reconnecting the reader to earlier parts of the story at the end and, thus, producing a satisfied feeling that encapsulates the story as a whole.

In my novel (The Small Adventure of Popeye and Elvis), the two main characters discover boats made from Yoohoo cartons floating down a creek. Inside the boats are notes written on strips of paper and folded.

The boys excitedly open the notes:

Three times.

This is repeated several times in the story (for the first few notes).

At the end of the book, one of the boys is sending a boat and a note down the creek.

My brilliant editor suggested that he fold it:

Three times.

(She refers to that as a "refrain." I love that!)

Well, DUH!

Of course that's what I needed to do.

That simple addition took the reader back to the beginning of the story in a wonderful, satisfying circle.

That addition left the reader with a memory of the early part of the story and, thus, an "aura" of the story as a whole, not just the end.

So I suggest that you might consider if there is any way to "bookend" an element of your story - to bring back at the end something important from the beginning - to give the reader a reminder of the evolution of your story - to connect the beginning and the end to leave the reader "full".

Just a thought....

Monday, December 17, 2012

Show, Don't Tell

I do a lot of school visits. I love to look at the signs, posters, art, etc., on the classroom walls. Naturally, I'm particularly interested in anything connected to writing. 
I was recently in a classroom that had these posters on the wall.

Do you think those students were good writers? (Answer: YOU BET!)


Friday, December 14, 2012

Dear Barbara O'Connor

Dear Barbara O'Connor

    Hi, my name is Sonia. I live in Montana and I love to read. I am 12 years old and love your books.  I read your book "Fame and Glory" and I loved it! It was a great book.  How did you get the idea for the cover? I'm wondering because the girl looks a lot like me

Well, guess what?

The girl on the cover DOES look like Sonia! Check it out:

 Thank you, Sonia, for sending your pictures! Bird would be delighted.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Things I Love Thursday

I love my brilliant editor, Frances Foster.

18 years

10 books

Am I lucky or what?

Frances Foster (left) and me

You can read about 
The Fantastic Partnership of Barbara and Frances

You can read more about Frances

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Writing Tip Tuesday

Author Wally Lamb says:

In writing, as in life, voice is crucial. Your voice has been honed by your family, your ethnic heritage, your neighborhood, and your education. It is the music of what you mean in the world.
Imitate no one.

Your uniqueness - your authenticity - is your strength.

Can I hear an AMEN, BROTHER?

Friday, December 7, 2012

Dear Barbara O'Connor

Dear Barbara O'Connor:

I liked when Georgina told Toby to shut up. I liked when Carmela cried her lungs out.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Things I Love Thursday

This little pillbox my husband brought me from England years ago.

On the top:

Our England is a garden that is full of stately views
Of borders, beds and shrubberies and lawns and avenues
--Rudyard Kipling 

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Writing Tip Tuesday

Today's advice from Stephen King again. (Hey, the guy does know a little about writing).

Description is what makes the reader a sensory participant in the story.

Good description is a learned skill, one of the prime reasons why you cannot succeed unless you read a lot and write a lot.

It's not just a question of how-to, you see; it's also a question of how much to.
Reading will help you answer how much, and only reams of writing will help you with the how.

You can learn only by doing.

Description begins with visualization of what it is you want the reader to experience. It ends with your translating what you see in your mind into words on the page.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Writing Tip Tuesday

Today I turn once again to the master himself: Stephen King (From On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft):

I think locale and texture are much more important to the reader's sense of actually being in the story than any physical description of the players. Nor do I think that physical description should be a shortcut to character. So spare me, if you please, the hero's sharply intelligent blue eyes and outthrust determined chin; likewise the heroine's arrogant cheekbones. This sort of thing is bad technique and lazy writing, the equivalent of all those tiresome adverbs.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Dear Barbara O'Connor

I received a great letter from a class recently who had thought up titles for the chapters in The Fantastic Secret of Owen Jester.

I think this is such a clever idea because it gets the students thinking about the essence of the chapter, its content, and how to interest the reader without giving too much away.

They were also quite creative and humorous and captured the tone of the book.

Here is a sampling:

Chapter 3     Trouble
Chapter 4     Take That Viola! Rocket!
Chapter 6     Doofus
Chapter 9     Niggle Remover
Chapter 13   Niggle, Now Punch
Chapter 15   Won't You Die, Viola
Chapter 16   We Need a Frog Medic
Chapter 25   Mission Killing Stumps Complete
Chapter 26   Underwater Romance
Chapter 40   Oh Man, I Hate Sad Parts

Friday, November 16, 2012

A Poem I Love

I recently got an email from a 4th grade teacher and literacy coach at The Pike School in Andover, MA. Her class had just finished The Small Adventure of Popeye and Elvis.

Among other activities, the students made Yoohoo boats and put special messages in them.

Isabel wrote a poem and agreed to let me share it with you:

The 4th grade class of 2012,
has done very, very well.
We were rewarded with a chocolate drink,
and we made a boat that doesn't sink.
We read The Small Adventure of Popeye and Elvis,
and it was a great book.
We wrote down all the vocab words
and then just had to look.
2 boys formed a friendship,
that lasted for awhile.
Elvis was a cool kid,
and Popeye had denials.
We have now finished it,
and it left us at a cliff,
and we were all surprised that it ended
at that bit!

PS We took a vocabulary test to see if we knew the meanings to all the vocabulary words! 

Isn't that great?

AND guess what? They knew ALL of the vocabulary words!

Go, Pike School 4th graders!!!!

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Mr. Mineo brings home the silver

This is a wall in my office displaying Parents' Choice Awards I have won in the past.

That empty space on the lower right has just been filled!

On the Road to Mr. Mineo's has won a Parents' Choice Silver Award. 

Things I Love Thursday

My egg cooker.

I know, I know. Kinda lame.

And you're thinking: Oh, great. Another useless appliance to take up space in my kitchen and end up in my yard sale.

But I'm telling you, this thing makes the BEST, most perfect soft-boiled eggs ever.

And for deviled eggs or egg salad? Great.

I really do love it. (Cause I'm kinda lame like that.)   

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Naughty Ruby

Ruby is back to her thieving ways. 

She ran off this morning and stayed gone for about 20 minutes (while I drove around the neighborhood in my pajamas).

She came back with this giant rawhide bone, which she STOLE.

She was NOT sharing it with Martha. (In fact, she would not share it with me until I offered roast chicken.)

No, I do NOT see you back there, Martha.

Naughty Ruby! 

Ciao bella, y'all

I was cleaning out paperwork in my office the other day and came across a letter from the Italian publisher of How to Steal a Dog noting some changes that were made when the book was translated to Italian.

Among the edits they made were to "change some words that for us are too hard." That included:

-- Eliminated the word "idiot"
-- Changed "dern world" to "stupid world"
-- Changed "Mama would kill us" to "Mama would punish us"

And my personal favorite:
-- Changed "I like to died when I saw" to "I like to stink"

They also changed the following Mama's action because in their opinion "it's not a good example for young readers":

"The bread we had in the milk crate in the trunk of the car had turned green with mold and Mama tossed it out the window" was changed to "...Mama threw it in the bin."

Also thought it best to eliminate all references to religion:

-- Eliminated "My other car's a broom. Honk if you love Jesus" [a bumper sticker]  

Interesting, no? 

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Writing Tip Tuesday

One job of a writer is to relate information to the reader as seamlessly as possible. (Good ole "show, don't tell.")

But that is sometimes tricky and takes a lot more effort than a non-writer might realize.

Making that skill all the more difficult is the fact that you, the writer, know information that the reader does not - so it's sometimes hard to gauge what to leave to the reader to find out as she reads along vs. what to go ahead and give her right away.

One of the most valuable "tools" for a writer is a pair (or two) of fresh eyes, i.e., a cold reader.

A cold reader can tell you what she doesn't understand, what she needs to know sooner, etc.

Let me give you two examples from personal experience:

I recently had a teacher relate to me that her students liked the way I didn't tell them who Ugly was in the opening scene of Greetings from Nowhere - that they had to read another paragraph or two to find out.

"Harold would have known what to do," Aggie said to Ugly. She tossed the unopened envelope into the junk drawer on top of the batteries and rubber bands, old keys and more unopened envelopes. "Let's go sit and ponder" Aggie said.

So, the reader doesn't know who Ugly is.

If I had gone on much longer, however, young readers would probably have gotten frustrated. I needed to get the information in there soon - but as seamlessly as possible.

She scooped up the little black cat and shuffled across the dirty orange carpet.

There - now we know.

I kept the reader waiting just long enough to make them curious - but not frustrated.

But in the rough draft of The Small Adventure of Popeye and Elvis, I wasn't as successful:

When the BB hit Henry square in the eye, she had screamed bloody murder and carried on so much that when Velma came running out of the house to see what all the fuss was about, she had thought it was Charlene who’d been shot in the eye.It wasn't until another page and a half that I identified Velma as his grandmother.

Initially, it just felt too telling to insert "his grandmother" in front of Velma.

I knew who Velma was - so it was hard for me to gauge whether or not the reader really needed to know this right away.

Apparently the reader did need to know.

Two topnotch editors - reading with fresh eyes - wrote "Who is Velma?" in the margin.

I'll be honest with you - I didn't really want to insert "his grandmother" - and it felt not-very-seamless to me - but I knew I had to do it.

Sometimes, you just have to listen.

I heard an agent speak at a conference years ago and I will never forget her "formula" for a good children's book: Make 'em laugh; make 'em cry; and make 'em wait.

I realize the "make 'em wait" part applies primarily to plot - but I also think it should apply to "smaller" elements of the story, as well.

But this can be one of the trickier elements of writing for children - how long to make 'em wait for information.

I think the answer comes from a combination of instinct, experience, and the value of cold readers.

(I realize that I've imparted zero information in this supposed "tip" - but sometimes food for thought is as good as a tip. At least, that's my story and I'm stickin' to it.)

Monday, November 12, 2012

Dear Barbara O'Connor

Received from a fan:

Beautiful and graceful
Adoring and helpful
Reading means a lot
Breathtaking words
A lot of hard work
Really a good person who not only cares about herself but the whole entire world
A lot of great books and effort put into them so they sound great

Aren't kids great??!!  
I LOVE 'em!!! 
(And I do care about the whole entire world.) 

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Things I Love Thursday

Work glove Willy!

A co-worker of my husband's made this little Willy (from How to Steal a Dog) out of a work glove.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Writing Tip Tuesday

I've said it before and I'll say it again:

Resist the urge to explain.

(To remember that - think RUE.)

Monday, November 5, 2012

Fantastic diorama

Check out this wonderful diorama of a scene from The Fantastic Secret of Owen Jester.

It was made by Daniel, a 4th grade student from Jupiter, Florida.

The scene is one in which Owen and Viola get the submarine into Graham Pond and find Tooley (the bullfrog).  The diorama is below the water surface.

I love all the details and how he managed to make it look underwater with the duck and the water lily floating on top.

Thank you, Daniel!

Friday, November 2, 2012

Kid Lit Cares

Children's author Kate Messner has organized an amazing charitable online auction to raise funds for those affected by Hurricane Sandy.
From the website:

What is KidLit Cares?

It’s an online talent auction to benefit the Red Cross relief effort for Sandy. Agents, editors, authors, and illustrators have donated various services to be auctioned off to the highest bidder, with donations being made directly to the Red Cross disaster relief fund.

What kinds of things are included?

 Manuscript critiques, in-person and Skype author visits, virtual writing workshops, school & library marketing consultations for authors… you name it.

I've donated a 30-minute Skype session and six signed books.

Check out the other awesome donations and bid NOW!

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Dear Barbara O'Connor

Dear Barbara O'Connor:

For my school summer project, I read How to Steal a Dog. The book was interesting and gloomy. 

It was a nice book the way you made it doomed in the beginning then in the end you made a joyful story.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Writing Tip Tuesday

I realize that it is rather presumptuous of me to disagree with Mark Twain.

But Mark Twain once said: If you find an adjective, kill it.

I agree that there are some adjectives that deserve a quick and painful death:

1. Adjectives that can be replaced with action.

Kill those guys.

Think action, action, action (which translates to, um, verbs).

Here's an example (albeit, a rather lame one): instead of describing the sidewalk as being icy and slippery - have the character slipping and sliding and falling.

2. Adjectives that can be replaced with showing.

Kill those guys, too.

For example, instead of saying he had a messy bedroom, for pete's sake, just show the darn room - you know, with the bed unmade and the pizza box on the floor and the clothes all over the chair and etc. etc etc.

So where do I disagree with Mr. Twain?

I think that adjectives that are part of the showing process and that are specific...

....and that aid in the job of visualization (i.e., help the reader see the image clearly and specifically)....

...deserve to live.

Do not kill them.

Here's an excerpt from How to Steal a Dog. Imagine this scene without adjectives:

The house smelled damp and moldy. The floor was littered with leaves and corns. In the front room, a lumpy couch stood underneath the plywood-covered window....Stacks of yellowing newspapers were piled in one corner. Two empty cans of pork and beans sat on a rusty wood stove. I followed Mama into the kitchen. The cracked linoleum floor was sticky and made squeaky noises as we walked across it. I wrinkled my nose and peered into the sink. Twigs and dirt that had fallen through a hole in the ceiling floated in a puddle of dark brown water.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Things I Love Thursday

I love kids!

I was in the library at a school last year that had a display of art by the kindergarten students. Each child wrote something that he/she was good at.

This one was my favorite.

Translation = I am good at readin'!

(Don't you LOVE that face?)

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Writing Tip Tuesday

Another handy revision technique is to use highlighters. (I work on hard copy but you can use the highlight feature of your word processing program.)

Like the focused read-through discussed last week, try reading the entire manuscript with only one element in mind.

But this time, use a highlighter each and every time you find one of the following:
  • Interior monologue (Too much? Slows pacing.)
  • Dialogue tags (Overused?)
  • Dialogue beats (Have you used the same ones too often?)
  • Words you know you tend to overuse
  • Any emotions mentioned (e.g., Sarah felt sad. John was surprised. Amanda was furious.)
  • All -ly adverbs (Can you replace with stronger verbs?)

Obviously, you will need to use a different color for each item.

This will give you an immediate visual image and give your revision FOCUS.

Monday, October 22, 2012

A Star for Mr. Mineo!

A starred review from School Library Journal for
On the Road to Mr. Mineo's!

Gr 3-6Nestled in the scenic South Carolina countryside is a quiet town called Meadville. Summers are ordinary, but wonderful, filled with bike rides, swimming lessons, and the antics of imaginative children. Stella is eager for adventure and longs for a pet to be her constant companion. She spends her days with her best friend, Gerald, on the roof of his garage conjuring up “good ideas” that usually bring some type of misfortune on him. One typical day, an unexpected visitor arrives–a one-legged pigeon that sets Stella on a mission to catch it and claim it as her own. However, she is not the only person eager to catch this fickle rogue. There are many others, equally as determined to snare the elusive bird. This heartwarming tale of a town coming together in an unexpected way will delight readers. Children will eagerly follow the twists and turns in this story of friendship and loneliness, giving and receiving. O’Connor sets the stage beautifully from the very beginning, painting the small town in brilliant colors with her descriptive imagery. Older elementary students will easily relate to the nuances of the relationships between older and younger children as well as the angst of sibling rivalry. The theme of everyone working together to achieve a common goal is strong, and the ending is touching and satisfying.

Dear Barbara O'Connor

Dear Barbara O'Connor:

You were very nice for talking to our class. I never got bored the whole time. You are full of good stories.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Writing Tip Tuesday

I read through the entire manuscript looking for only one element to revise.

Some examples:
  • Focus on consistency of point of view (This is a biggie. It's VERY easy to jump out of point of view and you might miss it if you aren't totally focused on that particular element of the writing.)
  • Focus on unnecessary words, sentences, paragraphs, etc. (Eliminate anything that doesn't advance the story, reveal character or enhance setting. Don't be word drunk, as Donald Murray calls it.)
  • Watch out for overused words. We all have our darlings to kill. Mine happen to be: now, then, and every now and then. (And remember to use the features of your word processing program - like SEARCH. If you think you may be overusing a word, search for it.)
  • Watch for sentences, paragraphs, scenes or even characters that repeat or serve the same purpose. (Resist the urge to repeat yourself - whether it's words or ideas.)
During this stage of revision, don't try to read for meaning or story structure. That's a whole different ball of wax. Just focus on whatever element you're looking for.

Monday, October 15, 2012

On the Road to Mr. Mineo's - Reviews


Some reviews of On the Road to Mr. Mineo's

From Horn Book:
"With total authorial control, O'Connor brings it all together, first creating a quiet, satisfying adventure and then an apt conclusion for peaceful, laid back Meadville. Here it is the subtlety of character and setting, rather than action, that rules the roost."  --Betty Carter

 From Kirkus:
 O'Connor weaves the fabric of her tale from each of these separate threads, moving back and forth among points of view, sympathetic to nearly all (except Levi and company). As in The Small Adventure of Popeye and Elvis (2009), she condenses long summer days down into their essence, quiet but humming with an undercurrent of childhood energy

From Publishers Weekly:
O'Connor's understated third-person narration moves languidly among the children (and some adults) in town - including Mr. Mineo, the homing pigeon's actual owner - in a story that beautifully captures the feel of a small Southern town and its residents.

From Book Page:
"...a gem of a story...Barbara O'Connor's gift in storytelling is her restraint. Holding back allows the reader to fill in a bit, making the story more personal. Her talents make On the Road to Mr. Mineo's an unforgettable trip."  --Robin Smith

And some blog and other reviews:


Friday, October 12, 2012

Reader reviews

I'm delighted that I've been getting such nice reader reviews for On the Road to Mr. Mineo's

Just this morning I heard from this little cowboy.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Writing Tip Tuesday

Interior monologue is a portion of the manuscript wherein the reader enters the character's head and hears her thoughts. (Did I just use the word "wherein"?)

Interior monologue is a handy dandy tool.

Here are my rules for interior monologue:
  • Use it to disclose information that would be difficult to disclose with dialogue.
  • Use it to develop character: show the character's traits and/or emotions
  • Don't overuse it. During revision, look for long portions of interior monologue and cut, cut, cut.
  • Use it to limit the use of speaker (or thought) attributions such as she thought or he wondered. For instance, try converting a sentence with a speaker [thought] attribution to a question. Instead of, "He wondered why he always ended up lying" try: Why did he always end up lying? You don't even need to add "he wondered" if you are 100% inside the character's head. The reader will get it.
And remember: Resist the urge to repeat. If you've put that thought into your character's head once - or twice - don't give in to the urge to overdo it.

Monday, October 8, 2012


I was going through some old photos yesterday and came across this one.

Grace Lin's lovely Where the Mountain Meets the Moon had just come out - and Ruby was a baby, too! Awwww.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Things I Love Thursday

Pigeon sugar cookies!

To celebrate the publication of On the Road to Mr. Mineo's

Thank you, Angela!

Monday, October 1, 2012

You go, girl!

At a school last year, there was a display in the library for The Small Adventure of Popeye and Elvis. The students had made origami boats and put messages inside.

Here is my favorite:


Thursday, September 27, 2012

Things I Love Thursday

I love finding the perfect THING.

We have this shelf that has needed the perfect thing on top of it for a long, long time.

This Hopi pottery just doesn't cut it.

We have looked and looked and looked.

We bought this cool bird hotel to go up there, but then it looked better somewhere else.

Then, while down South recently, I found the THING in an antique store. 

Perfect! (Okay, okay, same color as the, then ALMOST perfect. But close enough. I love it.)