Thursday, June 28, 2012

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Dear Barbara O'Connor

Dear Barbara O'Connor:

My opinion was that the book How to Steal a Dog was the most popular one in the world.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Writing Tip Tuesday

Let's talk about timeline and chronology of events in a middle grade novel.

It's important to go back and look at your novel as a whole to make sure the sequencing of events is accurate and logical.

One of best tools to help with chronology, as well as structure and pacing, is my handy dandy story map.

Personal experience:
I speak with the voice of experience when I say that it's easy to forget about the timeline when you're all tangled up in the story.

How to Steal a Dog was in the final stages of production when some annoying, er, I mean, very observant copyeditor got her mitts on it. She made this really annoying, er, I mean, helpful chart of the chronology of events, noting the days of the week. She also revealed a problem. My main character was going to school on weekends and was not in school on school days. Dang! I hate it when that happens. Trust me when I say this was not an easy fix - but I managed to do it. Live and learn.

After that grim experience, I now add the days of the week and/or the date to my handy dandy story map.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Dog Days of Summer

Ruby can't wait to get in the pool. Martha is still a little unsure.

How many times will she chase that ball? MANY...

Now the problem. After she gets out, she destroys the shrubbery.

Friday, June 22, 2012

I have the best friends

Look what my writer bff's gave me!!

A little silk wristlet with the cover of On the Road to Mr. Mineo's.

I love it so much.

Thank you Gusty and Gucci.

Y'all rock!

Little Free Libraries!!

Is this the greatest idea or WHAT?

Little Free Libraries sprouting up all over the country!

You can buy one or make your own, then register it to go on the map so folks can find it.


Thanks to Linzee on Etsy for this.


Thursday, June 21, 2012

Things I Love Thursday

This silly frog.

He was on our table at a restaurant when we first moved to Boston and we bought him. Just a nice little memory....

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Writing Tip Tuesday

As your story gets longer, it's easy to lose your way and sometimes hard to see the story as a whole (the forest vs. the trees). I tend to treat each chapter individually, scene by scene, so I need a way to help me see if they are all working well together.

As I progress from chapter to chapter, I make a "map" of my story by copying and pasting the first paragraph and the last paragraph of each chapter. I also make a note of the timeline of each chapter (e.g., two days later, the next day, etc.), as well as the setting (e.g., at the creek, in the motorhome, etc.).

So, it looks something like this:

Chapter 1 (at the creek)
First paragraph: blah blah blah
Last paragraph: blah blah blah

Chapter 2 (two days later; in the motorhome)
First paragraph: blah blah blah
Last paragraph: blah blah blah

Chapter 3 (the next day; at school)

The story map serves a number of important purposes for me. It shows me very quickly:

1. The timeline (Is it logical and correct?)
2. The balance (or lack of balance) of the setting
3. The pace (Does it move quickly enough? Where does it slow down?)
4. The consistency (or inconsistency) of tone
5. The logical (or illogical) sequencing of events
6. Whether or not I have hooks for chapter beginnings and page turners for chapter endings
7. If any of my chapters are too similar/repetitive (particularly with regard to action or emotion)
8. The whole story "at a glance."

Monday, June 18, 2012

Doggy Talk

Ruby (left) and Martha

Martha: Come on, Ruby. Give me a break. Talk to me.

Ruby: Uh uh....I'm not talking to you right now.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Writing Tip Tuesday

One of the most critical elements to master in writing children's books is PACING.

Children's books must move quickly.

Good pacing is achieved by:
  • Good story structure (setup, development, climax, resolution)
  • Variety (a mix of dialogue and narrative, large and small jumps in time, balance of tension with no tension)
  • Good use of chapter endings and beginnings
  • Eliminating unnecessary sentences, paragraphs, scenes, chapters
Chapter endings are, in my mind, one of the writers greatest tools. Use the chapter ending to create tension or suspense and to arouse curiosity (which keeps the reader reading).

Use chapter beginnings to jump forward in time, to introduce a new story element (such as a character or a situation), or to change setting.

Unnecessary scenes (or sentences or paragraphs, etc.) include repetitive or too-similar scenes.

Repeat after me:

Resist the urge to repeat yourself.

Repeat after me again:

Resist the urge to repeat yourself.

Repetition dilutes your writing and causes the author to intrude on the story by drawing attention to the writing. Repetition is self-conscious writing.

On the subject of repetition, Sol Stein says, "One plus one equals a half."

If you think the reader won't "get" something unless you repeat it, then maybe you haven't written it right the first time.

On the subject of unnecessary scenes, Kurt Vonnegut says, "Don't put anything in a story that does not reveal character or advance action."

Repetitiveness can also apply to characters. Do two characters fulfill the same purpose?

Is every character necessary? Does each character fulfill a purpose?

And one more time, repeat after me:

Resist the urge to repeat yourself.

Personal experience:
Like everyone else, I learn many of these things through personal experience. In my first novel, Beethoven in Paradise, the main character loves to walk. In the first draft, he went on a LOT of walks. It was a perfect chance for him to think - so I could throw in lots of meaty interior monologue. When all else failed in the story - Martin went for a walk.

My editor commented about that first draft (and I paraphrase here): I thought if that boy went on one more walk I'd go crazy.

I cut out about four good walks and replaced them with four good action scenes.

So, to wrap things up here, repeat after me:

Resist the urge to repeat yourself.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Dear Barbara O'Connor

Dear Barbara O'Connor:

I think your new book about the pigeon is going to be really good. I can't wait to read it.

Well, I know you have 22 other letters to read, so bye.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Before and After

I'm recycling a post from back in 2007 because a) I like it and b) I'm a cheater:

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.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Things I Love Thursday

This little charm (that used to be on a necklace chain)
given to me by a boy when I was in the 4th grade.

It was delivered with a note that said: I love you.
(I think I still have that note around here somewhere.)

Hey diddle diddle the cat and the fiddle

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Students Perform Play of The Small Adventure of Popeye and Elvis

This is the coolest thing ever.

 The Small Adventure of Popeye and Elvis was performed as a play!

Ms. Cavanaugh's third grade class at Addison Elementary School in Palo Alto, California, worked HARD to put on this play. 

They rehearsed and rehearsed and rehearsed.

I'm so proud of them!!!

They even had a character who was Popeye's conscience (see the devil and the angel?)

 Thank you, kids, for this wonderful honor!


Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Writing Tip Tuesday

You can have the most fabulous opening ever.

You can have the most riveting story ever.

You can have the most wonderful characters ever.

But if you blow the ending....well, then, it's like serving brussel sprouts for dessert after the gourmet dinner.

Here's a story about an almost-blown ending.
(Warning: If you haven't read Moonpie and Ivy, this post will most likely mean nothing to you.)

I don't like fairy tale endings. I like realistic endings. But I also know that the ending of a child's book should at least be hopeful in order to be satisfying.

Here is the original ending of Moonpie and Ivy (prior to revision):

Then she lifted the shoebox and dumped the postcards out the window. They fluttered in the wind like butterflies, then drifted slowly to the ground, leaving a colorful trail on the dark road behind her.
I LOVED that! Those butterflies...that colorful trail on the dark road....

Lucky for me my editor is more brilliant than me and is not easily moved by fluttering butterflies and colorful trails.

She called me and told me no, no, no. That ending isn't right. First of all, she can't throw those postcards away. She needs them (i.e., kill the butterflies).

Second of all, metaphorically speaking, the dark road isn't behind her. The dark road is ahead of her (i.e., kill the colorful trail).

In addition to that stroke of genius, my editor made one small suggestion that gave the ending exactly what it needed: hope. She suggested that Aunt Ivy give Pearl her phone number.

That phone number gave Pearl a connection that she desperately needed - and left the reader feeling better about things and not so hopeless about Pearl's plight.

Here, then, is the revised ending, as it was published:
She opened the scrap of paper and squinted at it in the glow of the dashboard lights. "Ivy Patterson" was scrawled in big, hurried letters. Underneath, circled in red, was a phone number. Pearl closed her eyes and said the numbers in her head again and again and again and again. She put the envelope back in the shoebox. Ruby droned on and on. "Wait till you see..." "You're gonna love..." "I was thinking we could..." But Pearl wasn't listening. She hugged the shoebox, thinking maybe she could already feel that hope starting to grow inside her. Then she whispered Ivy's phone number over and over while she stared out at the dark road ahead.

Here are some of the reviews:

"O'Connor provides no magical happy ending for Moonpie and Ivy, but it is a hopeful one."

"What I most admire here is the author's courage with the plot, particularly the ending..."

"...the ending was very brave, tinted with hope but with the weight of reality hanging heavy within. I admire that [she] didn't tie it up with any pretty ribbons."

And two reviews from children:

"I hope you all have a chance to read it because I thought it was great even though at the end it's very sad. At the end I loved it"

"The ending, although not happily-ever-after style, left me feeling good."

So there - saved by an editor.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Dear Barbara O'Connor:

My teacher has read two of your books, How to Steal a Dog and The Fantastic Secret of Owen Jester. I really like them because the main character has a secret and lies a lot.

Friday, June 1, 2012


Two weeks ago, a sweet little dog named Martha arrived as a new member of our family.

She came all the way from Indiana to Connecticut on this bus.

She enjoyed her car ride home to Massachusetts.

When we got home, Ruby was not very happy. She went to hide in her hole.

Sorta close


Closer still....


Welcome, Martha!