Wednesday, December 28, 2011

The Good, the Bad, and the Oh-So-Close: 2011 in Review

    In March, my family and I hiked to the bottom of the Grand Canyon. Loaded down with 30-pound backpacks, we hiked for four hours, winding around wind-blasted outcrops, uneven terrain, and narrow trails (especially when the mule trains passed). Hiking out two days later was even more arduous. It snowed. Ice covered the last mile of trail. That 30-pound pack felt like someone had loaded it down with granite cobbles. It was hard, physically the hardest feat I've ever accomplished, but I made it.
   Similar to hiking the Canyon, my writing life has been a challenge. It's filled with valleys and summits. Not so much a Point A-to-Point B journey, but more of a mixed-up alphabet soup of highs and lows and in-betweens. I've accomplished much this year but as always, there's room for self-improvement in my writing life. Looking back, here's what I see:

 The Good:
  1.  First and foremost, I found an agent! Sara Crowe at Harvey Klinger called in May after reading my middle-grade manuscript, THE UPSIDE OF DOWN. I was beyond thrilled and love working with her.
  2. I started this blog. Through it, I've met some amazing writers, improved my craft, and added dozens of books to my reading list. 
  3. Two writing projects (actually three, but it's just an idea at this point) continue to inspire and excite me.   
      The Bad:
  1. A first draft. I have one at present which is REALLY BAD. On the bright side, it is a COMPLETED first draft. I just haven't had time (insert: too many good ideas to get down before I work on revising). Okay, so a completed first draft is good news, but its so bad the stench is almost unbearable. 
  2. My Toshiba laptop died a slow, agonizing death. I nursed it as long I could because I Don't. Like. Change. I bought it in 2006, so it was a dinosaur in tech years. My shiny new Mac is still showing me the ropes. It's a patient teacher. I think we will be great friends someday. 
One inch at a time...
    The Oh-So-Close:
  1. Once again I signed up for NaNoWriMo and once again, I fell short. Maybe next year...
  2. A manuscript that had been at a house for two years which I'd revised per an editorial letter was left in limbo when the editor left. 
  3. The 'I really love this story, but - ' letters. There were a good share. However, since I'm a glass-half-full kind of person, I have to look for the positive: those 'buts' came with a detailed amount of feedback.
      Looking back, 2011 was a productive year. Maybe I didn't accomplish everything that I'd set out to do. Maybe it will take another year or two or even three to conquer those hills. It's all about moving forward, moving up, whether it's by small steps or giant leaps.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Happy Holidays from Here's the Story

 'May you have good health, happiness that multiplies, 
an endless supply of hope and dreams,
 and peace of mind this holiday season.' 

See you in 2012!

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Five Tell-Tale Signs You're A Middle-Grade Writer

  1. The gossip you hear from your twelve-year-old is infinitely more interesting than that from your peers. 
  2. The largest genre of books on your bookshelf are written by authors whose last names are Riordan, DiCamillo, Spinelli, Wiles, Creech, and the like. 
  3. You listen to that Bieber guy for inspiration, snack on seasonal candy while writing (jelly beans, candy corn, Christmas Nerds, etc), and edit with a glitter gel pen. 
  4. Ok, maybe, just maybe bodily sounds and gross humor have some merit.
  5. The jokes you tell get a bigger reaction from the youth group you lead than your co-workers.

Monday, November 14, 2011

When Secondary Characters Steal the Spotlight

    This past weekend, I attended the always-fantastic Prairie Writer's Day in Palatine, Illinois, hosted by our state chapter of SCBWI. One of the highlights of the day was a Skype visit by author Bruce Hale. He had his 200+ - person audience in stitches as he talked about the secrets of humor. But the one point I took away from his talk had more to do with secondary characters than with humor.
     Hale compared the main character in one's story to the sun. That character should be three-dimensional, which we've all heard before and hopefully, dutifully, and painstakingly accomplish with rewriting. However, he said that not all characters should not be as fully-fleshed out as the MC or they can outshine the star of your story.  Makes sense.
    When I heard this, it hit home because recent feedback on one of my manuscripts pointed to that very problem. An editor complimented two of my secondary characters, their role in the story, their personalities and quirks. Missing? The love for my MC.
     If your secondary characters are stealing the spotlight from your MC, ask yourself why. Is it because you're writing from your MC's eyes and you're forgetting those details that help define his/her personality? Or maybe your secondary characters want to tell the story instead. Whatever the reason, revision is in order.
     As I revise, I'll be paying particular attention to my MC and how he interacts with those noisy, boisterous secondary characters. He'll need to take center stage again, clamp a hand over their mouths, and remind them to be a little less show-offy. As the writer, I'm just the person to help him to that.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Halloween and 'I Can't Wait' Writing

     On the days I've been subbing this month, I like to ask the kids what they'll be for Halloween.
     Their eyes light up! Hands shoot into the air! Some can't help themselves and they shout it out instead.  Some revelations are just too monumental to remember proper classroom behavior.
     'I'm going to be a princess!'
     'I already have my fireman costume!'
     'My mom made me a kitty costume, but I'm not wearing it. Kitties are for babies.'
     Oh, yes. Remember when deciding what to be for Halloween bridged the boredom between summer vacation and Christmas? The anticipation of finding the coolest outfit even though there were a million different versions on the streets; getting dressing in the final hour; making the grand entrance in front of your friends so they could ooh and aah? The anticipation was half the fun.
     That's what I'm feeling now, the same sense of anticipation while the NaNoWriMo clock ticks away, counting down to the final hour when I can finally start writing the story that's been tumbling around in my head. Maybe I'll fizzle out at 28,000 words like I did in 2009. Or maybe life will interfere again like it did last year and I won't even hit the 10,000 mark. Who knows? I'm excited and that's enough for now.
      Good luck, NaNoWriMoers!

Friday, October 28, 2011

The Smart Writer's Guide to Procrastination

     Instead of my usual Friday Five post, I've decided to shine the light on a few instances when I've caught myself behaving badly as a writer this week. I'm a firm believer of BIC (Butt-In-Chair), thanks to Jane Yolen and her prolific writing life. But for some reason, it didn't work for me this week. I lost my focus. Admission is the first step to recovery, right?
     Anyway, I had an agenda this past Monday -- I was supposed to finish a rough draft of a non-fiction picture book which I've wanted to write for awhile. My intention was to have this draft done so it could 'stew' during November while I took part in NaNoWriMo. Ideally, I'd like to take it to a January workshop for some feedback. Well, it didn't happen. Instead, I found myself:
  1. Cleaning out my writing files. I found a lot of article clips for story ideas that I'd forgotten about. Also came across many form rejection letters. I'm not sure why I decided to keep them. There's nothing useful in them, so they went into the recycling bin.
  2. Dusting the bookshelves. The 'Dust Me' message from my daughter had collected a new layer of dust! Not a good sign...
  3. Started to categorize and ALPHABETIZE the bookshelves. Okay, this is really pathetic. I realized this after I got through the chapter books and was working on the middle grades so I stopped. It's not a bad idea in theory, but still.
  4. Going through my recipe box and cookbooks for Christmas cookie recipes. 
  5. Making suggested changes to a MG manuscript so it can go out on submission.
     The good news is that, with the exception of #4, everything at least relates to writing. The bad news? My Monday agenda is now my weekend agenda. Procrastination has always been a problem for me, especially without hardcore deadlines.
     Do you procrastinate? How do you stay focused? And by the way, if you have a really great holiday cookie recipe, send it along!

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Nano Fans: Tips from Writer's Digest

     NaNoWriMo is almost here! The blogs are buzzing about it! The forums are filling up. Excitement continues to build. Can you feel it? Here's an article from Writer's Digest to read for encouragement, tips, and affirmation that it's all right to dedicate a month of your life to frenzied writing.
     Looking forward to the challenge. Who's in with me?
                                              Happy Writing!


Friday, October 14, 2011

Prepping for the Marathon: My Friday Five

  1. Are you gearing up for NaNoWriMo in 2 weeks and 3 days? I am. I'm ditching my WIP (for now) which isn't working and starting the story that's been niggling for attention. What do you do to prepare yourself?
  2. How am I getting ready for NaNoWriMo? I found the Novel Novice blog this past week which is helping me with an outline and character profiles. Here's the link if you want to take a peek.
  3. Chris Guillebeau at Art of Nonconformity says he tries to write 300,000 words a year. Wow! That sounds like a finger-numbing amount, but then I thought of all the e-mails, posts, and comments I make on Facebook and blogs, not to mention the manuscripts I work on during the course of a year, and I guess it's not that big of a stretch. Someone shared his article on Facebook a few days ago, so I'm posting this link if you'd like to read his article. Interesting!
  4. In between NaNoWriMo prep, I'm working on a rough draft of a non-fiction biography picture book. The Illinois SCBWI chapter is hosting a workshop with the award-winning non-fiction queen Candace Fleming in January and I'm going!  Keeping me company and cheering me on are two favorite picture books on my desk right now -- Action Jackson by Jan Greenberg and Sandra Jordan as well as Darwin by Alice McGinty. I love these two books for their story-telling voices and rich illustrations.
  5. Unrelated to writing, but worth a mention: orange is one of my favorite colors. And orange with glitter just rocks! What I'm finding out is that even though my husband's favorite color is orange, too, he can tolerate only a set amount of glittery pumpkins around the house. Apparently, I've exceeded the limit.
                                                                                      Happy Writing to you!

    Sunday, October 9, 2011


     Ahhh. Fresh air, singing birds, and look! it's fall! Leaves falling, garden fading. When did that happen?  
    My writing hole (well, not really but it could very well have been!)
    Okay, I wasn't completely cut off from the world, but I've been in a writing cave for the last month, revising a previous manuscript for my agent.
         I'm a multi-tasker by nature, thriving when my plate is full, but revisions require single-minded focus (at least for me). The laundry piled up, the food supply dwindled, the yard looked like a prairie restoration project.  Yet I plugged away, tweaking chapter after chapter, writing a few new ones, combining others.
         I reread the manuscript first, before I started surgery. It'd been since January when I worked on it last. I love it when, on looking back at a piece of writing, I'm surprised by sections I don't recognize, paragraphs which I don't remember writing. Does that ever happen to you?
         Anyway, it's out of the house once again.  I'm ready to work on something new (like the WIP I ditched a month ago). So I'll leave you with a couple of my favorite quotes on revision and a poem.

         "It is with words as with sunbeams -- the more they are condensed, the deeper they burn." -- Robert Southey

         "My most important piece of advice to all you would-be writers: when you write, try to leave out the parts readers skip."  -- Elmore Leonard

         'Ring the bells that still can ring;
         Forget your perfect offering;
         There is a crack in everything;
         That is how the light gets in.'  -- Leonard Cohen


    Thursday, September 22, 2011

    One Last Look

         Just when I thought I was finished with my latest round of polishing, something popped into my inbox that had me second-guessing everything I'd worked on for the last several weeks. I questioned myself  enough that I'm going through the manuscript one more time before I send it back.

         If you're a regular reader of Darcy Pattison's blog, Fiction Notes, you'll know what post I'm referring to without going to the link.  Her advice on  last minute novel revisions is a good summary of the points to pay attention to as you're nearing the finish line (for the first, third, or umpteenth time).

         Are you almost ready for submission, too? Pattison's post will help you answer that question. Good luck!


    Friday, September 16, 2011

    The Case of the Missing Week - A Friday Five

         Wasn't it just yesterday that I posted a Friday Five? I've been lost in the land of revisions so maybe that explains the brain black-out. Anyway, here's what I'm thinking/loving/obsessing over at the moment:
    1.  I started substitute teaching again this week. I love being in the classroom; it's a constant source of inspiration for my writing.Time moves quickly at work, but during recess/specials breaks, I bring my manuscript and make revisions with a green gel pen that I'll transfer to the computer when I get home.
    2. Speaking of home, the desk is a wreck. There's no time to clean it. Once the computer gets buried, I might have to rethink that. 
    3. Many thanks to Lisa Potts for passing on a very sweet award to Here's the Story! Check out her fabulous blog here. Thanks, Lisa! 
    4. Caramel apples! We're lucky to have not one but two local places that make them daily (hey there, The Chocolatier and Cunningham's Candies!). And it's reassuring to know the Shell station even sells them if I get a late-night craving! 
    5. Bought a new camera yesterday. Nothing fancy, but it might be a few days before I can conquer the instruction manual. I'm baaaad with technology. Please note that I did figure out how to post a picture of my most recent blog award (after failed attempt last week). It only took a half hour and the computer didn't start smoking. I think I'll celebrate with a caramel apple.
                                                                   Have a great weekend, everyone!

        Wednesday, September 14, 2011

        Writing from the Shadows

             I recommend books to my kids all the time. I know what they like, so I pay attention to what's coming out and getting good reviews for my own sake as well as theirs. My oldest, however, rarely reads the books I rave about. It's partly because her pleasure-reading time is limited by the required reading for school (sadly, it's not one and the same), but also because she likes to pick her own books (though I can claim responsibility for getting her a little obsessed over a vampire romance book when it first came out in 2005). So when she picked up Ransom Riggs' Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children and started reading it, I was happy.
             We were at my son's baseball game and I'd brought the book along to read between innings. I hadn't started it, so I was a little miffed that she'd finally shown an interest in the one book I was really excited to start. Anyway, she sat next to me with the book and was well into the first couple of chapters. Suddenly, she jolted.
             'Oh my goodness', she said. She took her sunglasses off, and wiped her eyes. "I wasn't expecting that."
             Naturally, as a writer, her reaction got me curious. Short of taking it out of her hands, I waited until she finished reading for the day and started the book later that night. I needed to know how Riggs' accomplished that effect. And this is what I found:
             Riggs is a master of atmosphere and setting. In his story, the main character, Jacob, witnesses the mysterious death of his grandfather who, as an orphan, lived on a remote island off the coast of Wales in Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children. Jacob sets off to visit the island and uncover the secrets which his grandfather hinted at before his death. His quest leads him to the abandoned orphanage, a hulking nightmare of a structure, which Riggs describes in haunting detail.
             But before Riggs even took me to the island, he surprised me with his breath-holding prose during the same scene that rattled my daughter. Sure, I was expecting it; I knew it would happen fairly early in the book, so my surprise wasn't pure. What I noticed is that what he didn't reveal had a greater effect on me than what he did. His scenes are full of shadow and light, things seen and unseen. His storytelling allows the reader's imagination to take the story to another level.
            The book reminded me a little of a movie that I saw when I was about fourteen. I refuse to watch it again, even as an adult after all these years. It was Don't Be Afraid of the Dark, and I saw that it was just remade (though I heard the reviews weren't stellar). In the story, a woman is terrorized by knee-high demons in her own home. I never really saw the demons until the end. Instead, they were characterized by their shadows on the wall, the moving curtains where they hid, their whispers. I was superbly freaked out for weeks. And why? Because it was the idea of them, the suggestion of what was just around the corner. Riggs accomplishes the same effect in his book.
             So I let my daughter finish Miss Peregrine until I dove into the rest. I started reading it the other night from the beginning. Last night, I read before bed as I do every night. I finished a couple chapters and really, really wanted to continue to the next. But I saw that Jacob was heading back into the house again. Alone. On a foggy afternoon. And I was alone; everyone else had gone to bed. The curtains were still open in the family room. It was too quiet, too dark outside. I was creeped out, thanks to Miss Peregrine.
             Has a book ever had that effect on you? I'd love to know which one.

        Saturday, September 10, 2011

        Revisions, Raspberries and the Rest of my Friday Five

        You know you want some!
        1. The WIP is on hold while I make edits on a previous manuscript at the suggestion of my agent. I'm excited that I get to work on it again and make it even better. Author James Thurber's words come to mind: "I am not a writer. I am a rewriter." 
        2.  Here's the Story received an award this week from Jennifer at I would display it, but in my computer-savvyless existence, I can't figure out how. Still working on it.
        3. I'm looking forward to making Raspberry Cheesecake Brownies from The Hummingbird Bakery Cookbook this weekend since raspberries are on sale at the local store. If you can't imagine what heaven tastes like on the tip of your tongue, you have to try this dessert
        4. The book that my daughter is reading this week made her visibly jump during a particular scene. I NEED to know how to write to that effect! Find out which book it was next week...
        5. And finally, a somber experience today at Illinois State University: walking among 3000+ mini American flags that dotted the campus's quad.
                                          Have a nice weekend, everyone. See you next week!

                Thursday, September 1, 2011

                And the Winner is...

                     I've mentioned Chapter After Chapter by Heather Sellers off and on since I started blogging in July because, well, it's a fabulous book. I read it cover to cover on a 14-hour train ride to Denver a few years ago, and have since gone back to it when I need a pep talk. Yellow Post-It tags mark a handful of my favorite chapters like Chapter 8 on 'Positioning', mapping out your writing strategy for the next day. Or Chapter 19 on 'Taking Baby Along: How to Travel with a Book-in-Progress'. 
                     And since all fabulous books should be shared, I chose one winner (using the 'ol high-tech, name-in-the-hat strategy) from among the dozens of followers and countless people who have commented here during the last month and a half. Thank you to everyone who has shared your thoughts at Here's the Story. I appreciate every one of you!
                     So, the winner of Chapter After Chapter is *drumroll*:

                                        Anne E. Johnson 

                                        Congratulations, Anne!

                Monday, August 29, 2011

                Getting Back in the Game

                     It was a tough day for my son on the ball field on Saturday.
                     Playing right field, he couldn't get a handle on a couple of line-drive singles. He missed the cut-off man on another. Hitting-wise, the shortstop threw him out on two infield grounders. His coach took him out of the game after four innings.
                     As we drove home, he was full of excuses.
                     "It was hot."
                     "The ball was hit too hard."
                     "The sun was in my eyes."
                     "I was bad, wasn't I?" he asked.
                     His head wasn't in the game. I could tell by his slouchy posture, how he kicked at the grass, and watched a bird fly overhead while his teammates focused on the guy at the plate. I didn't say that, though. Instead I said, "Everyone has their 'off' days."
                     "Maybe I shouldn't play next year."
                     I shrugged. "That's your choice," I said.
                     As a high school freshman next year, he'll have to make a choice between playing baseball or joining the track team since they share the same season. He threw discus in track this year and really enjoyed it. But for now, he's in junior high baseball. And he's discouraged.
                     "Everyone's better than me," he said. He slumped down in the seat, pulling the cap over his eyes. "But I love baseball," he mumbled.
                      I looked at him, and something dawned on me. He sounded like, He sounded like me on the days when I'm wishing that I could get an acceptance before I get another rejection. That my computer wasn't so slow. That I could write as lyrical and fresh as that shiny new author at Big Publishing House. Some days I'd rather complain than compose. It's all just so hard, I think. Why bother?
                     On days like that, I just want to wallow in self-pity. And nothing and nobody is going to stop me, by golly. But I love writing, so I'll be back at the computer the next morning if I'm not there the night before. I can't imagine a time when I won't be writing. It's just not possible. It's who I am.
                     So go ahead and allow yourself an 'off' day if you feel one coming on. Embrace it. Wallow with chocolate, Ben & Jerry's, or whatever your vice.
                     Then dust yourself off and get back in the game. 

                Friday, August 26, 2011

                A Week of Firsts - the Friday Five (+ 1 More)

                1. I'm on the campaign trail this week, thanks to Rachael Harrie's Platform-Building Campaign. This is the first blog-related networking activity I've participated in, and I'm having a blast! I've met so many creative, inspiring people this week by visiting blogs. What a fantastic opportunity to network and make friends. Thank you, Rachael!
                2. The kids' first day of school was Tuesday. They left loaded down with binders, calculators, mechanical pencils and happy anticipation for seeing their friends again everyday. Back to uninterrupted writing time for me!
                3. Lost a few days worth of work on my cannibalizing flash drive. I know, I know, I shouldn't be working directly on it, but my laptop is on its last breath. I thought I was *safe*. Lesson learned. 
                4. I replaced the duct work to our dryer this week ALL BY MYSELF! Maybe I've missed my calling. Next up...replacing the bathroom faucet. Girl Power!!!
                5. What I'm loving at the moment? Freshly-baked blueberry coffee cake. Life is good.
                     Oh, yeah...5 days left on my first-ever contest for Heather Seller's Chapter After Chapter. It's one of my favorite writing books. Anyone who leaves a comment and/or follows me gets your name in the drawing. I'll announce the winner next Thursday. 
                                                                             Have a great weekend, everyone!

                  Thursday, August 25, 2011

                  Lost in Smugville

                       While breezing along with my WIP on Monday midday, it looked to be a productive week. The characters were behaving badly (as they should), the dialogue rang true, and the transitions were as smooth as butter. Everything I wrote sounded goooood. No editing needed. As a writer, you know this is not the norm. The process usually equals angst-ridden, hand-wringing days, when getting a paragraph down feels like you've had to use a quill pen between your teeth to write it. It's painful. But Monday was different.  My smugness swelled like a balloon.

                       And then it popped.

                       It popped when I plugged in the flash drive yesterday to continue working. I clicked on the WIP folder.


                       click, click

                       Still nothing.


                       I thought the blank page, the Void of White Nothing, was teasing me for being so smug. I looked everywhere. Then I found that not only was Monday's work missing, but the flash drive seemed to have cannibalized several days of writing. In all, about 6,000 words.

                        I've remembered bits and pieces of the good parts since yesterday (and saved them on a new flash drive). It will take me days to rewrite instead of jumping into the groove of three days ago. I'm back to feeling the angst and hand-wringing, to writing with a quill between my teeth.

                       Smugness, thy name is not writer.

                  Tuesday, August 23, 2011

                  Discarding the Chaff

                      The cage holding my three zebra finches stands an arm's length away from the computer desk. Their songs make my writing time anything but quiet, but its pleasant background noise and I easily tune them out.

                      However, yesterday morning was an exception. All three scratched and bobbed in the plastic food dish, and seeds shot onto the floor. Suddenly they would stop, peck at the remaining food, then the manic routine would begin again.

                       I watched this for five minutes, totally engrossed in this birdy behavior, their sloppy but necessary routine of discarding the chaff or seed casings from the food dish once they broke into the seed's 'meaty' center. It reminded me a little of the revision process. We chisel the bloated paragraphs and tedious sentences in our first drafts into crisp prose with each revision. I happen to love the process, but yeah, it can get pretty messy.



                  Friday, August 19, 2011

                  Friday Five

                  1. I'm beta-reading a fantastic manuscript by author-friend G.P. Ching. If it's anything like her first novel, The Soulkeepers, her fans are in for another treat when this one is released!
                  2. Also reading A Certain Slant of Light by Laura Whitcomb. I love this story for the richness of its characters.
                  3. I can feel fall coming, especially since there's a crispness in the air at night. However, I am NOT liking how the fat-bodied orb weavers spin their webs around the house when the sun goes down and I have to duck-walk under them to take the dog out.
                  4. Polishing the first ten pages of a manuscript to send in when I register for Prairie Writer's Day in two weeks. 
                  5. A BIG thank you to Ruth at Out on a Limb, Shy Writer Goes Social for presenting Here's the Story with its first award! Here it is:
                                                                                        Have a great weekend, everyone!

                  Saturday, August 13, 2011

                  Friday Five - A Day Late

                  1. It's been a week full of Mondays, hence the late Friday Five post.
                  2. My son and I took part in a Humane Society outreach event last night. We brought Lucky, a five-year-old lab mix to the local minor league ballpark for some face time with potential adoptive families. She especially touched my heart since she was brought in with her brother, Jack, and he was recently adopted. I hope she finds her own home soon.
                  3. A tornado touched down outside of town this past Monday. I missed it as I was 20 miles away at the time, and got home as the sun pushed through some ominous-looking clouds still hanging around. I've always wanted to see a funnel cloud. From a great distance, that is.
                  4. I've put on 250+ miles this week driving my two boys to and from practices for three teams. 
                  5. My co-network representative and I finalized plans for a hands-on workshop in October with Paula Morrow, editor, author, book reviewer and instructor for the Institute of Children's Literature. She'll be leading attendees with polished manuscripts through the submission process. Excited!
                                                                                                                           Happy writing!

                  Tuesday, August 9, 2011

                  Home from the Conference - Now What?

                   I'm not the jealous type.

                  Really, I'm not.

                  But after a weekend full of blog updates, Facebook posts, photos and Tweets emanating from the West coast, I'm feeling every-shade-of-green envious of the folks that were able to attend SCBWI's 40th anniversary celebration at the conference in Los Angeles.
                  I went to the LA conference in 2008, and as much as it was a magical, transformational experience, I remember my first SCBWI conference with a little more clarity. The conference was hosted by SCBWI's Iowa chapter in Iowa City, and it was an inspirational and energetic weekend. I couldn't sleep at all the first night. My head buzzed from the amount of information I'd soaked up that day.

                  Being in the company of so many writers for the first time, people who wrote in the same niche as me, was heady stuff. I came home feeling validated, ready to work, and with an armload of notes, handouts, sample copies, and contact information. You're probably feeling like that now, whether this was your first or fifteenth conference.

                  But once you're home and (mostly) unpacked from your conference, what should you do with all the stuff. How can you best make use of the time and energy you spent collecting information to further your writing career?

                  Here are five ways to organize and help plan your next moves:
                  1.  Read over your handwritten notes. Type them up, possibly organizing them by similar topics. All information on plot strategies can be grouped together, advice for the agent search can be on another page, etc. This can be tedious but at the same time exciting because you get to revisit the conference all over again. Make sure to attribute who said what in case you decide to write a topical article or blog entry, and need a reference.
                  2. Send thank you notes. Did you get a conference critique from an agent, author, or editor? Let them know that you appreciate their advice. They'll remember you when you get around to submitting that manuscript.
                  3. Follow-up on other conference contacts. Visit the blogs of people you met, friend them on Facebook, Twitter, etc. Maybe you met someone with whom you'd like to exchange manuscripts, or you talked with an author who blogs and had great tips for starting your own. These connections could lead to great opportunities. 
                  4. Go over the guidelines of publishing houses and agencies. Read and reread these before sending your manuscripts out there. Pay attention to the submission time lines and how many pages/chapters they'd like to see. You don't want to waste an opportunity because you missed the fine print.
                  5. Finally, write, write, write! You're full of creative energy now that you're back home. Take advantage of it to start a new project or dive back into your WIP. 
                  What other strategies do you use post-conference?

                  Friday, August 5, 2011

                  Friday Five

                  1. My family and I visited LeClaire, Iowa last weekend, home to History Channel's American Pickers. Their store, Antique Archeology, is tucked away inside an old two-story fabrication shop. You'll miss it if you're not expecting to find it in the alley of a hillside residential neighborhood.  We saw a TON of cool things! My son begged for the klaxton horn (ah-WOOO-ga!). I was partial to the 12-foot tall fiberglass cowboy boot. This place was full of story ideas!
                  2. I'm continuing the contest for Heather Seller's Chapter After Chapter book. It's one of my favorite writing books. To get your name in the giveaway, just leave a comment or follow me. I'll announce the winner at the end of this month.  
                  3. The WIP is moving forward thanks to early morning baseball practice. My son's team meets six days a week now that the season is underway. It's too far away to drop him off and go back home for only two hours, so I bring the laptop to the nearest cafe and write away.
                  4. I've counted THREE peaches on the tree I planted two years ago. They're almost ready! This is even more exciting than the two blueberries I harvested in June. Do three peaches equal even half a pie?
                  5. More back-and-forth regarding Traditional Books vs. E-versions. Here's an article from the Chicago Tribune this week, urging traditional publishers to 'fight back' with their own advertising gimmicks, similar to the commercials promoting Kindle. Personally, I'm tired of hearing that paper books are on their way out. There's room for both formats, and stories will continue to reach readers. Isn't that the whole idea?

                  Tuesday, August 2, 2011

                  Writing Places

                  When I was a kid, my grandpa built me a tree house in the silver-leaf poplar in the backyard. A bench big enough for my sister and me sat against the back wall, and a curtain hung over the door. There wasn't a roof, so I could stand and see over the wall. He had also fastened a tire swing to the largest tree limb with heavy-duty chain link. When I didn't feel like climbing down the ladder, I'd opt instead to shimmy across that limb and monkey down the rusty chain, turning my hands orange in the process.

                  The tree house was my earliest writing place. I'd bring my spiral notebook up there and my special pen with  its four interchangeable colors. I could press a button and click!  Red. click! Blue. click! Green. click click! Back to red, my favorite. I'd stay up there for hours, writing, doodling, and dreaming until my sister found me. Later, my grandma typed my tree house tales on her manual typewriter while I dictated. I still have most of my stories, thanks to my sister for hanging onto them.
                  My tree house wasn't quite like this one!
                  It looked more like this.

                  Sometimes I wish I still had a tree house for writing. Where is your ideal place to write?

                  Friday, July 29, 2011

                  Friday Five

                  1. My son and I volunteer at the local Humane Society. We clean cages, walk the dogs, and give as much attention to them as we can before they go to their 'forever homes'. When we stopped by this week, my son pointed out a flyer on the bulletin board. It was a call for 2-3 volunteers to each take a dog to the minor league ballpark in town for an outreach event. "Baseball and dogs, my two favorite things," he said. Guess what we'll be doing next week?
                  2. In a few days, SCBWI-IL will announce the editor/agent line-up for Prairie Writer's Day in November. Can't wait to see who will be at this fabulous day-long event! Our chapter always outdoes themselves in planning this conference.  
                  3. I'm tired of the heat and ready for fall.
                  4. Last night, I bought ten pounds of blueberries at the store. The deal was too good to pass up, though I'll have trouble fitting them into the freezer. They'll last all winter long. Sucking on frozen blueberries helps with writer's block, too. But maybe that's just me.
                  5. Come Monday morning, I'll be fast-drafting. I'm ready!

                  Tuesday, July 26, 2011

                  Fresh-baked Memories

                       When I was growing up, my mom delighted the family with her baked goods. Her chocolate chip cookies rivaled Mrs. Fields, her apple tarts never lasted a day, and her frosting....oh, the frosting. After the cake smells filled the house, the mixer would start to whine in the kitchen. If she was making vanilla frosting, I'd park myself on the kitchen counter and wait to lick the beater. The first taste of frosting was heaven. Soon my taste buds went numb in powdered sugary, Crisco goodness.

                       Baking played a role in my first two MG manuscripts, especially the most recent one. My main character's family owns a bakery. When I wrote it, those memories of helping my mom measure ingredients, decorate cookies, and sneak batter fueled my writing. The smells and sounds of a Saturday afternoon with the oven heating the kitchen are still fresh, even after 30 years. Maybe that's why the food scenes were some of the most fun for me to write.

                       Some memories have yet to make it into my writing, but I know they'll eventually show up somewhere. There's the Birthday Cake Fiasco of 1990 (think the Bumpus dogs/Christmas turkey scene in Christmas Story, only with cake). Or the time my best friend and I turned the mixer on high speed with over four cups of dry ingredients in the bowl. Flour dust coated every surface in the kitchen. Even the ceiling fixture needed a wipe-down. 

                       These memories floated around me two days ago while I baked a cake for my dad's birthday. The cake itself came from a Pillsbury boxed mix (sshhh! - don't tell my mom), but I whipped up the frosting from scratch. It's taken some experimenting over the years to get it right. Mom never wrote it down, instead eyeing everything as she dumped it into the mixer ('just a dribble of vanilla, maybe a second's worth'). Anyway, I have finally mastered the frosting. And, unlike my mom, I wrote the recipe down. I'm a writer after all.

                       What childhood memory has played a role in one of your stories?

                  Friday, July 22, 2011

                  Friday Five

                  1. An awesome charity auction is taking place over at It's to celebrate the publication of Carrie Harris's YA zombie book, BAD TASTE IN BOYS, and will benefit the Giving Library at Mott Children's Hospital. There are dozens of items up for bid - signed books, critiques, and ARCs! Go Carrie!
                  2. Now that Borders is officially extinct, it's just one less place where book-loving peeps can hang out, skim the shelves, indulge their coffee addictions, and interact with live humans. My local Borders closed four months ago. With this week's news, I'm starting the grieving process all over again.
                  3. I love summer fruit! Especially farmer's market-fresh stuff: strawberries, blueberries, raspberries. It makes me want to write fruit stories.
                  4. Had lunch with a writer friend/critique partner to plan a fall program and activities for the local SCBWI network. Excited about the possibilities!
                  5. My WIP is slow-going. I did manage to make my word count goal last weekend, but this week...well, not so much. I blame the heat.  Did you accomplish your writing goals for the week?

                  Monday, July 18, 2011

                  Monday Mini Challenge - Dialogue

                        I love writing exercises. They're short and there's no commitment involved (kind of like a first date!). If you like writing exercises as well, show up each Monday and I'll have one for you. Let's devote the rest of July to dialogue, okay? I'll have an example of a middle grade novel to demonstrate technique along with the challenge. Sound good? Get your fingers warmed up because here we go:

                       Dialogue can sometimes define a character better than straight narrative, and it can be especially revealing when conflict directly engages that character. Take, for example, the scene in Ingrid Law’s wonderful novel Savvy, when Mibs Beaumont’s teacher announces to the class that from that day forward, Mibs will be homeschooled. Mean girl Ashley Bing and her counterpart Emma Flint comment on Mibs’s predicament from the back of the classroom:

                       “Missy-pissy’s going to stay home with her mommy,” Ashley said, as though she were talking to a baby – just quiet enough that the teacher couldn’t hear.
                       “With her mommy,” Emma repeated.
                       “She’s going to stay home so that no one can see what a friendless freak she is,” Ashley sneered.
                       “What a freak she is,” mimicked Emma like a spiteful parrot. 

                       In that exchange, two short sentences for each character, we can immediately see who’s the leader in Ashley and Emma’s relationship, and who is the follower.
                       So here’s a Monday Mini Challenge for you:

                       Write a conversation in which two young characters disagree about how they should tell a mutual friend some bad news. Are you ready?...Go!

                  Friday, July 15, 2011

                  Friday Five

                  1. The goal for this weekend is to get 1,000 words down on my WIP. That might seem low, but the calendar is packed and I NEED to get some writing time in.
                  2.  I'm thinking I need a new writing space. I've been thinking this for awhile. Maybe a new writing table, new rug, and a chair that doesn't pitch me forward when I shift in my seat. It's cluttered in here, and it's making my thoughts cluttered. Or maybe this is just another procrastination tool surfacing. I have LOTS of those.
                  3. I have three books going at the moment: PRINCESS FOR HIRE, by Lindsey Leavitt, THE FOREST OF HANDS AND TEETH, by Carrie Ryan, and ROSE MADDER, by Stephen King. I picked up King's book at the library the other day even though I'm nowhere near finished with the other two. I haven't read him since I was a teen (the last book I remember reading was the clown one - can't remember that title). I went in looking for a YA book on my TBR list, and came across a shelf of his books. Nostalgia got the best of me, and I checked one out.  
                  4. Speaking of procrastination tools, the garden is out of control even though we haven’t had a soaking rain in weeks. Must weed soon or I won't be able to find the zucchini and cucumbers beneath the blanket of morning glories. 
                  5. I need to find a pottery class. My main character in the WIP takes a pottery class at her high school, and I know NOTHING about it. It's an important part of the story, an integral part of her character, so I'll have to delve a little deeper instead of just mentioning 'so-and-so makes bowls in Intro to Pottery class'. This will be a good excuse to get really dirty and play with fire. My boys will be proud.

                                                                                                                                Happy Writing!

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