Thursday, March 28, 2013

Things I Love Thursday

I love when parents take the time to write a letter like this:

Dear Barbara O'Connor:

My name is M__. I have a ten year old son, his name is P__. He usually gives me such a hard time when it comes to reading daily. We recently discovered the books you've written in our local library and have enjoyed them so much!! 

Our first book we read was How to Steal a Dog. I picked that one on a whim simply because of the title. What a great read!!
I usually pass our read around and we take turns but I admit if I like the book I keep it (to do the voices).We really enjoyed this one and I was on the verge of tears near the end when she gives back the dog. 

Of course I HAD to find another book you wrote the day after I finished it.

Tonight I picked back up The Small Adventure of Popeye and Elvis we've been reading. My son has commented several times that he can picture all of it in his head. I agreed... . Tonight when I started getting bleary-eyed he took the book over and even with many chapters to go finnished the book with tears in his eyes... . I fell asleep but he assured me it was even better than your first one we read.( I'll have to read it again).

Anyway, thank you from the Mom of a VERY reluctant reader.
May you stay warm and blessed!

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

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, March 25, 2013

Dear Barbara O'Connor

Dear Barbara O'Connor:

One last thing: If Popeye's Uncle Dooley shot Popeye in the eye, his eye would fall out, wouldn't it?

Friday, March 22, 2013

A few more pics

A few more pictures from my recent visit to Donovan Elementary School in Lebanon, Ohio.

With Zachary McHenry


Thursday, March 21, 2013

Snow day

Things I Love Thursday

I love reading fifth grade writing.

I recently taught a biography writing workshop with fifth graders.

They did an amazing job. 

Check out some excerpts from one of them (and they were ALL amazing):

A crisp, cold wind whistled through the treetops on February 19, 1928, and sailed past a little yellow bungalow, only stopping to hear the joyful sighs of a proud mother and father cooing over their little girl. 

Children raced along the small sidewalks of the tiny town of __, Kansas, to the few shops in the center of town. Dogs strolled through green lawns and a light frost covered windowpanes, but Mary __ was too young to enjoy it. Her little fingers were closing into little fists, and then opening, as she looked in wonder.

Are you wowed yet? Just wait till you read the ending:


Now living in __, Connecticut, if you stop by to listen, you might hear the crisp pages of a new cookbook turning, the microwave running, or something boiling on the stove.

If you stop a minute to smell, you might smell the aroma of spices or maybe something baking in the oven.

If you stop to peer in through the window, you might see bottles and jars out, pots on the stove, or baking sheets going into the oven.

And sometimes, you might see her lying on the couch, remembering all the fun times she had traveling before.

If you ask her what her greatest accomplishment was, she would tell you it was raising four wonderful kids.

On rainy days, she might be finding a new use for something old.

You might see her watching T.V. or reading the newspaper, or maybe trying to find out more about her Grandpa L.

I could use many words to define her: thrifty, hard-working, loving, caring, funny, helpful, a loving mother, a loyal wife, and many more, but the best thing to say is that she is a wondrous woman. 


Tuesday, March 19, 2013

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 copy editors on more than one occasion.)

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 Fantastic Secret of Owen Jester:

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.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Things I Love Thursday Part 2

I love seeing students create art for one of my books like this amazing mural from Donovan School in Lebanon, Ohio for On the Road to Mr. Mineo's.

The students created the town of Meadville!

Things I Love Thursday Part 1

I love visiting schools like Berry Intermediate and Donovan Elementary in Lebanon, Ohio.

Berry hallways were decorated with greetings

Berry Media Specialist Kathy Aurigemma (left) and me

Arriving at Donovan

Donovan Assistant Principal Sheri McHenry (left) and me

The motel from Greetings from Nowhere

A decorated door at Donovan

The walls decorated with art for Greetings from Nowhere

How to Steal a Dog decorations at Donovan

A book tree!

Art teacher Amy Brewer posing with Sherman

Get hooked on a Barbara O'Connor book today!

More hall decorations at Donovan

Another cool Donovan door

Students created their own boats to celebrate The Small Adventure of Popeye and Elvis

Some more creative boats

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Writing Tip Tuesday

Good dialogue needs good beats.

What are beats, you ask?

Beats are small pieces of action interspersed throughout the dialogue.

For example, from Moonpie and Ivy, the beats are in bold:

"My mama just up and left." Pearl flung an arm in the direction of the road. "Just perched her butt behind the wheel of that crappy old care and drove away. What do you think of that?"

"Who know. Last I heard, she was running wild over in Macon." Ivy's face got redder. "Makes my blood boil," she said.

From Fame and Glory in Freedom, Georgia:

"If you had a kid who needed glasses and you didn't have any money, what would you do?"
Miss Delphine tapped her fingernail against her coffee mug. "Well, I suppose I'd start with school," she said.

I LOVE beats! They are critical to the rhythm of the dialogue - and I love rhythm.

Using beats for rhythm takes practice - and reading out loud (or at least hearing the dialogue).

Let beats work for you.

Use beats to:
  • Identify who is speaking (to avoid the use of a dialogue tag)
  • Develop character (especially if the action is unique rather than common)
  • Show the emotions of the speaker
  • Break up the dialogue
  • Allow the reader to visualize the action
  • Vary the rhythm
  • Move the story along

Warning: Watch out for repetitive beats. And don't overdo the specifics. (For example, don't show us every single action involved in eating dinner. This is pointless and boring.)

Now beat it....

Friday, March 8, 2013

Authors in April

Authors in April is an AMAZING annual event in Rochester, Michigan.

Now celebrating its THIRTIETH year!!!!

I had the great honor of participating.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Things I Love Thursday

The German edition of The Fantastic Secret of Owen Jester

Translation of title = 3 Best Friends, Viola, 1 Bullfrog and the Most Exciting Summer of All Time

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

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."

Friday, March 1, 2013

A lovely display

I love this display from a school I visited recently. (The book is The Small Adventure of Popeye and Elvis.)