Thursday, October 31, 2013

Tricks and Treats

Happy Halloween!  My mind is full of tricks as well as treats—both the sugary kind and the writing kind. I thought that I'd share some, but
Photo by earl53
not the yummy chocolate or caramel stuff since I haven't figured out how to download high calorie goodies.  

Some treats:
An article written by H.M. Lewis in the July/August SCBWI Bulletin: “Smart Research for Dummies.” It highlights the benefits that writers might find in some of the For Dummies books. Believe it or not, this was interesting enough for me to label it a treat. Body Language For Dummies by Elizabeth Kuhnke, for example, snagged my attention. Suggestions on how to give my characters another way to communicate? I'll take them.
To learn more about the For Dummies books (on writing and almost everything else), check out

The list of finalists for The National Book Awards, which were announced last week. I love reading award-winners.  For more information:

Another treat is when my mind stirs up the “perfect” ending to a story that I am writing, especially when this solves more than one story problem. I’ve only experienced this kind of an epiphany once or twice, but it can be more delicious than an entire bag of Halloween candy.

Writing inspiration that comes from reading a novel written by another author. I love this treat. A story can be different in every way from what I am writing, yet inspiration, unrelated ideas, and lots of insights pop into my head about my own work as I read. Yummy.

Some Tricks:
Novels with ho-hum stakes. When I start reading a story only to realize that the stakes are not high enough, I taste sour disappointment. Why not? If I don’t care all that much about whether the protagonist reaches his or her goals, there's not much point in reading. When I mutter “So what?” it's only a matter of time until I put the book down, usually with a sad sigh.

A character that does something that I can’t believe he or she would ever do, and without reason or justification. My trust disappears. Or when a character says something not in keeping with his or her personality, also without reason or justification. What? I am left feeling as if I’ve been tricked. I no longer trust that I know this character. 

Computer irritations. This can be anything from a computer glitch that means my writing, edits, research, etc. has not being saved to some craziness that allows my computer to eat my work. Any techno-nightmare that ruins my writing day falls into this "trick" category.

Are there any tricks and treats that you enjoy? Or tricks that make you want to throw candy at your computer? 

Wishing you all a Happy Halloween!

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Setting as Character

Have you ever read or heard that a writer should consider setting to be a character in a
Photo by Hotblack,
story? Have you ever read a story in which the setting came alive? Or, the details, moods, and symbolism of a story brought it to life? I have. And I must say, the right setting details can make an almost magical difference to a story.

Think about a story with a vivid setting. I bet it evoked emotions in you as reader. I bet it added to the characterizations in the story. And, I bet that setting changed and developed ever so subtley. Maybe it even included specifics that set the mood and the tone of the scenes. Perhaps the setting even took on a life of its own. Didn’t this use of setting enhance the story? I am guessing that it did.

All of this started churning around in my head as I started reading a novel in which the setting is, so far, a character. The night air breathes, the floors moan and whisper under the weight of someone’s steps, the moon hides behind clouds and peeks out every so often. Goosebumps, anyone? At this point, the setting is a creepy sort of character setting me up for something scary. And I can’t wait to read more.

Enough about what I think. What do you think about setting?

* NOTE: Some of you may have noticed that I skipped blogging in August. Many apologies! I hit a bit of a health snag in my road to recovery. As a result, my writing and blogging schedule felt the hit. Thank you for visiting again, my bloggy buddies! I am on my way to visit you, again, too. : ) 

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Summer Reading

Summer is a great time for reading. I love sitting outside, immersed in a wonderful novel or a nonfiction book (maybe a book on the craft of writing), with a glass of lemonade on a sunny day.

I recently finished two books on writing that will end up on the top of my desk, where I keep my favorite books on craft (meaning within reach). Writing Fiction: A Guide to Narrative Craft, by Janet Burroway, Elizabeth Stuckey-French, and Ned Stuckey-French was recommended to me at a Highlights novel workshop. The Writer’s Journey: Mythic Structure for Writers, by Christopher Vogler was a gift from a well-published author who said this book changed his fictional writing life for the better.

Writing Fiction: A Guide to Narrative Craft is considered a textbook, so be warned--it is a bit pricey. Still, I’m glad I bought it. The text outlines the writing process, including discussions on finding the right details, characterization, fictional time and place, story structure, point of view, and (of course) the process of revision. Short stories and writing exercises at the end of each chapter highlight and reinforce the lessons discussed.

A sure sign of how helpful I find a book is how much I highlight the text and dog-ear the pages. My copy of Writing Fiction is tattooed in purple highlighter and sports many bent corners. It’s a good thing that I didn’t borrow my copy from the library.

The Writer’s Journey: Mythic Structure for Writers explores the relationship between mythology and storytelling. This book focuses on screenwriting as well as novels. According to Christopher Vogler, "all stories consist of a few common structural elements found universally in myths, fairy tales, dreams, and movies." Agree or disagree, this book provides a lot of helpful and thought-provoking information for fiction writing, which probably explains why it is an international bestseller. The text discusses the story journey and its stages, which include archetype characters and the various points of the journey from beginning to end. 

Yes, I highlighted the text of The Writer’s Journey as much as I highlighted Writing Fiction: A Guide to Narrative Craft. I also dog-earred lots of pages.

Have you read either or both of these books? Have you read any books on the craft of writing that you’d recommend? Anything that goes with sunshine and lemonade?

Happy July 4th!

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

The End In the Beginning?

T.S. Eliot said that "The end is in the beginning." 

I’ve always heard that it is not only wise to plant the ending of a story in the beginning, but necessary. Not in an obvious way, of course, but subtly. The beginning of a well-told tale should at least hint as to where that story is going, and perhaps where it will end.

This is one of the many reasons why, for me, much of writing is revising. I outline and yet, because I don’t force myself to stick to the outline (it’s more of a safety net), I often need to revise my story based on what the first draft ends up becoming. I almost always need to adjust my story beginning (adjust often being a nice way of saying rewrite) to suite my story ending.

How about you? If you are a writer, do you try to allude to your story endings in those story beginnings?

If you are a reader, do you appreciate how the ending of a story is sometimes reflected in the beginning of that tale?

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Something Old Into Something New

photo by clarita,

It has been said that there are no unique story ideas. Okay, but does that condemn most stories, then, as nothing more than rehashed, already told tales? If so, wouldn’t readers be too bored to pick up a new novel?

Sometimes writers can become infatuated with a great story idea that is less than unique, but  the initial impulse might be to shy away from developing such an idea. Is this always wise? Why not consider developing a been there done that premise into something new--a version different and hopefully special. Yes, there are those published story premises done one too many times (Did someone mention vampire romances?) On the other hand, some stories stand out as unique despite the reflection of an already done premise. Think about Romeo and Juliet and West Side Story. Sometimes, a familiar story can be molded and contoured into a stand-alone work with its own merits.

How? Consider fresh characters with unique bends and twists to their back-stories, unique motivations, interesting values, and funky quirks. Or perhaps a unique setting can make a story unique. Maybe an added plot twist or different ending. How would Romeo and Juliet be different if their story was set in the year 2075, on Mars? 

What do you think? Can a less than unique story idea be tweaked to be new and improved? How might you transform something old into something new?

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

The Home Stretch

Photo by Jade,
Isn’t it exciting to come into the home stretch of a work in progress? For me, this is when I am satisfied with the overall story, but I am questioning the smaller stuff. With my focus on the finish line, I give a last look at specific areas of my novel that might need a tweak or an adjustment. For example:

CHARACTERS Will readers care enough about the characters in my novel to keep reading from page one until the end? I hope the answer is yes, but I will often do a final review by concentrating on individual characters. This is a good way to be sure that each is unique and that actions are not predictable.

CONFLICT I often reread to be sure there is enough conflict and that it is balanced. Too much all at once can be overwhelming or ring false. Not enough can be ho-hum.

SCENES Does the setting come alive in a way that most benefits each scene? If not, what details can I add to make this happen? How many characters are in the scene and does this work? A crowd can be cumbersome. Also, does something change in each scene? Where is the crisis and the drama? Is every scene necessary to my plot? Are there too many similar scenes?

OVERALL MESSAGE Have I said what I intended? Or, has the message changed somewhere in the many drafts?

What do you focus on when you hit the home stretch of a project (other than finishing it)?

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Photo by Juditu

There is a wonderful quote in Writer’s Digest, (October 2012) by author Patricia Cornwell. It is in response to a question about rejections and what advice she gives writers. Here’s the quote:

“Quitting can’t be an option. You don’t become a writer—you are one. And if you really are a writer, it’s like telling a songbird to shut up—you can’t.”

I agree, yet, in chat time with some of my writer pals, I have bemoaned the trials and tribulations of writing and publishing, marketing and promoting. Crafting, revising, and polishing a story can be frustrating and grueling. However, despite this, I can’t imagine not spending as much of my time as possible engaged in this struggle. In fact, when I am put into a situation that doesn’t allow as much writing time as I’d like, I become
Photo by AcrylicArtist
edgy and discontent. I crave the struggle even though I may still fantasize about throwing a manuscript out an open window (complete with laptop). Quitting is not an option. Like the songbird mentioned by Ms. Cornwell, I can’t shut up (ask anyone who knows me).

Do you consider yourself this kind of writer—the songbird that can’t be quieted? Have circumstances ever road-blocked your writing? If so, how did this affect you? 

A happy Spring to all! 

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Head Versus Heart

Photo by Ladyheart,
How many times have you heard a writer, actor, or artist talk about his or her wildly successful project? Often, we hear or read that such a project has sprung from subject matter close to the creator’s heart—some deep passion about something. In the September, 2012 issue of Writer’s Digest, for example, author Chris Cleave (best seller Little Bee, as well as Incendiary and Gold) shared that he only writes about topics that he really cares about.  Doesn’t it seem like more often than not, success stories start with this kind of spark or passion?

On the other hand, though, it’s sometimes hard to ignore what the market hungers for or requests.

If you are a writer, do you write solely about subject matter that has deep meaning for you or that resonates with you? Or, do you let trends or the market influence what you write about? In other words, do you listen to your head or your heart as you decide on a new project?

When you read, can you discriminate between an author who is passionate about his or her subject matter and one who may be more grounded? Does passion for a topic or subject matter always bleed through? Does it need to?

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

The Ballad of Jessie Pearl: A Book Birthday

Hello everyone! I apologize for being more absent from this blog than usual. A bit of radiation was added to my ongoing treatment schedule, which messed with my writing life for a bit. To make up for my absence, though, I have a special treat for you.

February 1st will be a very special book birthday. The Ballad of Jessie Pearl, a historical fiction debut novel published by Namelos and written by a wonderful writer, and my friend as well as critique pal, Shannon Hitchcock, will be officially released. Insert celebration dance here.

Already this novel has received lovely reviews from Kirkus and Publishers Weekly. (PW review here:

As if this is not enough reason to break out the party cake, the amazing Richard Peck liked Jessie Pearl enough to write a cover blurb for the novel: “With the poetry of plain speaking, Shannon Hitchcock recreates the daily drama of a vanished world.” Wow. Let loose the balloons and confetti.

Inspired by Shannon’s family history, The Ballad of Jessie Pearl begins in 1922. Young and spirited Jessie has big plans for her life, until tuberculosis forces her to put her dreams on hold. Oh, and she falls in love for the first time, too. Pushed into confronting what she really wants, and what she is willing to sacrifice for it, Jessie learns that fighting for one’s dreams can be anything but simple.

Not only is Shannon a wonderful writer, she is also proving to be a whiz at marketing and promotion. She spoke on January 18th at the Florida SCBWI conference on a panel of debut authors, she is slated to speak at NCTE on a panel of southern authors in November, and she’s sold numerous copies of her novel out of the back of her car. Impressed yet? I am. So, I thought we’d chat with Shannon about marketing a debut novel.

Welcome, Shannon! So, how much of the marketing and promoting are you taking on (as compared to what your publisher may be doing)?

I look at marketing as a partnership. My publisher sent out approximately 150 copies of my book to reviewers and awards committees. Those are contacts that I don’t have on my own. I’m always reminded of a quote from Joyce Sweeney, “Your publisher is doing more than you think they are.”

What resources did you find most helpful in guiding you on how to market and promote your debut novel?

Lisa Schroeder has a handy “Timeline and Checklist for YA or MG Book Release” posted on her blog.
I also highly recommend Katie Davis’s e-book: HOW TO PROMOTE YOUR CHILDREN’S BOOK. Oh, and use SCBWI. I wrote an article for my regional chapter and I spoke at the Miami conference.

Can I get you to share some of your marketing strategies, or how you have been or will be promoting? For example, how do you go about selling books out of your car?

I’ve made it my mission to contact all of my friends and relatives, contacts my publisher doesn’t have. I started by writing a letter to everyone on my Christmas card list and inserting two bookmarks. I invited the recipients to read my book and asked that they pass the extra bookmark to a friend who might also enjoy it. As for selling from the back of my car, I try and keep about ten copies of my book in the backseat. I’ve chatted up my book at church, the beauty salon, even the drycleaners, and then if anyone expresses interest in buying, I have a book handy to sell them.
I also uploaded my book trailer to YouTube, Vimeo, TeacherTube, and to my Goodreads author’s page:

Since I hope JESSIE will be used in classrooms, I also worked with Debbie Gonzales to create a Curriculum Guide that is linked to the new Common Core State Standards. It’s available for free downloads, too:

I also gave my website a facelift to focus on my new book.

How much do you use social media, such as Face Book and Twitter, to promote? 

I try and tweet and post to Facebook a couple of times a day.

What would you suggest to someone just starting to promote his or her first novel?  What would you advise against?

Have bookmarks made as soon as your cover art is final. Bookmarks are relatively inexpensive and people love getting something for free. I advise against doing anything you detest. One of my critique mates hates to blog. She tried it and it’s not for her. I think if you hate doing something that you’ll find every excuse to avoid it.

I’ll be honest and tell you that I’m afraid I’m leaving out some vital pieces of the marketing puzzle. Maybe your readers will share tips and strategies in the comments section so that we can all help each other.

Thank you, Shannon! Wishing you every success with The Ballad of Jessie Pearl!
For more on Shannon and her fabulous novel, hit these links: