Monday, December 31, 2012

Looking Forward

Wishing you much peace 
and triumphs big and small!
Happy 2013!!

Monday, November 26, 2012

Map Your Way to Your Story's Emotional Truth

     While working on a writing project, author Susan Campbell Bartoletti recalls drawing a map of the neighborhood she lived in as a child as well as her childhood home. As she sketched the house plans, memories of events and emotions associated with each room flooded back. That simple exercise helped her establish a deeper connection to her story, she said at a November conference of the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators in Illinois.
     I did this same exercise a few months ago during a revision. Even though I had a (very) rough layout of my character's neighborhood on notebook paper, I redrew the map on poster board. It helped to connect me again with the physical surroundings of the story. When one of the characters was chased through the streets and into an abandoned building, I could trace his path on the map. Running six blocks at full-speed would have a much different effect on him than running two blocks. Was I clear enough in describing how he felt as he hid inside the building, waiting to see if the antagonist would find him? Would it really take him 15 minutes to walk that same path like I previously had written?  In another chapter, two characters walk from home to school, taking the city streets to get from one place to another. But looking at the map I'd drawn, I see that going through a park is a short cut. How might these new surroundings affect their actions and dialogue? Might it change the dynamics of the story? These questions popped up only after I had drawn the map.
      Think about the project you're working on now. What is your inspiration for the setting? Is there a connection to a real place? Who cares if you're not an artist — this isn't about creating a masterpiece drawing. Postboard and a pack of colored pencils won't help you discover your inner artist but it can bring out hidden elements of your story.  Making the map was also a fun distraction from the actual writing, even though I was technically still working on the manuscript.
     Have you ever mapped your setting?

Monday, November 5, 2012

Within the Pages: Deadline by Chris Crutcher

     Sometimes a book grabs me and doesn't let go until I finish. In the case of Deadline by Chris Crutcher, reading this book ate up my weekend. My entire weekend (save for dinner out on Saturday and church on Sunday). Even though it was published five years ago, I was unfamiliar with the title as well as Crutcher's other books. As a new fan, I'm on a mission to read everything else. Read on for my impression of Deadline:

by Chris Crutcher
Published by HarperCollins, 2007

Summary of Deadline from HarperCollins:
     Ben Wolf has big things planned for his senior year. Had big things planned. Now what he has is some very bad news and only one year left to make his mark on the world.
     How can a pint-sized, smart-ass seventeen-year-old do anything significant in the nowheresville of Trout, Idaho?
     First, Ben makes sure that no one else knows what is going on—not his superstar quarterback brother, Cody, not his parents, not his coach, no one. Next, he decides to become the best 127-pound football player Trout High has ever seen; to give his close-minded civics teacher a daily migraine; and to help the local drunk clean up his act.
     And then there's Dallas Suzuki. Amazingly perfect, fascinating Dallas Suzuki, who may or may not give Ben the time of day. Really, she's first on the list.
     Living with a secret isn't easy, though, and Ben's resolve begins to crumble . . . especially when he realizes that he isn't the only person in Trout with secrets.
Character Who Would Have Your Back: Main character Ben Wolf. Despite the fact that he's dying,    Ben stands proudly in the shadow of his brother, Cody; worries about his bipolar mother; and tries to rescue the town drunk from his moral abyss. Here's a guy who loads everyone else into the lifeboat when the ship is sinking, even though he needs saving the most.
Character You Feel Sorry For Hating: Sooner Cowans, the ignorant, racist, deadly-on-the-gridiron thug teammate of Ben and Cody, who stalks underclassmen in the locker room with a wet towel. It's no wonder he's the way he is, having Boomer Cowans as a dad.
The Teacher You Never Hope to Get: Mr. Lambeer should not be in charge of a classroom, especially in history class discussing civil rights. Ben tweaks Lambeer's nose every chance he gets since he won't be around long enough to deal with the consequences of not getting a high school diploma.
Why I Read Deadline: I had the pleasure of listening to Chris Crutcher at the SCBWI Rocky Mountain Chapter's annual conference in September. He cracked us up, mesmerized us, and told us to speak the truth and not hold back in our writing (advice coming from someone who loves that his books consistently land on the banned books lists). I'd never read any of his books so I bought Deadline, got it signed, and couldn't put it down from page one.

What are you reading now?

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Winner of the Spooktacular Giveaway

Jen Haile
is the winner of 
The Empty Mirror by James Lincoln Collier and
Deadly Wish by Tony Bradman and Martin Chatterton

Congratulations, Jen!

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Load Up on Scary Titles with this Spooktacular Giveaway

Do you love blog hops, especially when there are LOADS of prizes like
Then check out the Spooktacular Giveaway, hosted by I Am A Reader, Not A Writer and The Diary Of A Bookworm. Please visit I Am A Reader, Not a Writer to view the blogs participating. Then enter my giveaway below. I'm offering not one but TWO

Happy Hopping!

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Monday, October 22, 2012

Waiting to be Inspired: Nonsense

     I haven't had time for writer's block this month.
     If you read my last post, you know I gave myself a revision deadline. And missed it. By a MONTH.
     Thankfully, the manuscript is finally out of the house again. I was so looking forward to starting something new (well, an idea that I'd been playing with before the need for revisions), but life intervened.  There's been substitute jobs, travel and, most importantly, a sick family member to care for in October.
      So when I've found precious free time to write, I'm writing furiously. With so little creative time, wasting it like I usually do is not an option (no vacuous staring, trips to the food cabinet, bookshelf dusting). I'm not waiting to be inspired because I AM inspired by the limited time. 
     I found this quote recently and it cracked me up. It makes perfect sense. Writer's block is a myth.

"All this about inspiration. . . . I think writing is mainly work. Like a mechanic's job. A mechanic might as well say he was waiting for inspiration before he greased your car because if he didn't feel just right he'd miss a lot of the grease points, that he had to feel right up to it."
(E.B. White in an interview with Robert Van Gelder, The New York Times, August 2, 1942)

     Happy Writing!

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

I Lied

     Remember back in August when I said I needed a blog break to make way for revisions, that I'd be back in September? Obviously, that didn't happen, but here's what I learned.

     Lesson #1: Revisions sometimes take on a life of their own. They don't like schedules.

     I was naive to think that these revisions would be easy. Granted, revisions are never simple, but I love revising. Instead of conjuring an entire first draft out of thin air, a story is already in place. I'm a fixer. I love to tinker and tinkering sometimes surprises me with unexpected turns. 
One of my distractions - gardens!

     Lesson #2: Remove as many distractions as possible.

     As much as it bothered me to stop blogging, I couldn't keep up with both blogging and having enough creative energy to write. But I should have looked at other areas that might distract me from revisions. Taking more substitute teaching jobs than I needed, volunteering to host a party, and washing/sealing the deck were probably not necessary last month; they could have waited.

     Lesson #3: Getting back the groove is hard.

     Like exercise, it's always hard to become motivated again whenever I take an extended period of time off. Not only was I not blogging, I wasn't keeping up with my regular blog reading/commenting, industry news, or even thinking about writing anything else. I was very focused on my revisions writing-wise, but other areas suffered. This post has taken me more than twice as long as usual to write, which makes me wonder if putting the brakes on blogging was the way to go.

     So now the revisions are finished. The manuscript is in the hands of a few readers. I await comments  to set me off on the next round of revisions. The good thing about each subsequent round is the changes are less involved (usually). There's more time for distractions (hopefully). I have books to read, posts to write, and a household full of distractions to get back to.

     How to you manage your time when drafting and/or revising?

Friday, August 10, 2012

Time Off

"Good writing is remembering detail. Most people want to forget. Don't forget things that were painful or embarrassing or silly. Turn them into a story that tells the truth."
 - Paula Danzinger, author of the Amber Brown series.

     I'm on a blog break in August, working on something under a self-imposed deadline.
 Hope you'll visit when I'm back in September. Happy Writing!

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Are Your Characters Riding Shotgun?

     I've been on my share of back roads.
     My husband, a geologist, travels off-road when he's doing field work. The best rock outcrops are off the beaten path, sometimes miles from a paved road. Before our daughter was born, I'd sometimes travel with him. When he used to take me along, I usually had a white-knuckled grip on the door handle. The more the Jeep tossed us around, the better. He loved it. Me, not so much.
     Now I admit when I drive, I don't mind the ruts as much. Barreling along a dirt road, kicking up dust, bumping up and down in the driver's seat is more tolerable when I'm in charge. It's much more fun to drive than be a passenger. Who doesn't like to take control?
     Like the driver, a main character should be living the story instead of watching the events take place. It's that old 'show, don't tell' conundrum: let the MC loose in the scene instead of relegating him or her to the sidelines.

     Take the following paragraph for example:

     Ellie saw the horse running toward her. She was afraid, too afraid to move. As it got closer, she noticed the whites of its eyes as the horse grew more panicked. It kicked up its back legs, one hoof knocking the top rail from the fence. She knew she should run. It was too dangerous to stay put.

     By using words like Ellie 'saw' and 'she noticed', our MC is observing instead of participating. Also, by telling us she is afraid, we don't really know anything more about Ellie's frame of mind other than what's on the surface. Show us she's frightened by how she looks (eyes wide, fists clenched, etc.), what she says or thinks ("I'm outta here!), and what she feels ('My heart pounds like the hoofbeats I feel shaking the ground beneath me'.). Here's an example of Ellie taking charge:

     The horse kicked up dust as it barreled toward Ellie. Ellie's stomach lurched. There was no where to run to; the barn was too far. She'd never make it. 
     "Stop, you stupid horse!" she yelled at the top of her lungs. She threw the bridle to the ground in front of her in disgust. It uncoiled, twisting like a blue snake.
     Sliding to a halt, the horse reared up when it saw the bridle twisting in the dirt. Its flailing hooves blew the hair away from Ellie's face. Tears stung her eyes.
     "I can't believe I ever thought we'd be friends, that I could ride you," she said through gritted teeth. 

      In that section, we get a sense of what Ellie's feeling by her physical and emotional reaction to the horse. This is accomplished by using dialogue, action, and avoiding the passive tense.
    If your MC seems to be taking a passive approach to what's happening, stop the car. Get out of the driver's seat and let him or her take over the wheel. Then hang on and see where your MC takes you.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Blog Birthday Giveaway Winner

     Thanks to everyone who stopped by to wish Here's the Story a happy birthday last week.
 Also, welcome to new followers: Tyrean; Jennifer; BLHmistress; Kim; Angela;
 Cordelia; Michelle; and Cathy. 
And finally a BIG congrats for scoring the Amazon gift card goes to:

Leigh Ann Harbin

Have a marvelous Monday and write on!


Monday, July 9, 2012

Blog Birthday Giveaway

     Any birthday is a big deal but the first one is extra-special, wouldn't you agree?
     It's hard to believe Here's the Story is a year old already. In that time, I've met some extraordinary fellow bloggers. I've learned how to write more succinct. I've read (and loved) many books recommended to me through other blogs, challenged myself through the Blogging from A to Z April Challenge and met my blog designer, Lisa Campbell at All Things Campbell. In short, this year has rocked!
     So I'm in the mood to celebrate. Of course birthdays call for these...
and lots of these...
and maybe a little of this (but not too much because it's so obnoxious to clean up)...
     But wait...there's more! Birthdays mean presents, don't they? And since so many of you have visited, commented, encouraged me, and offered advice over the last twelve months, I've been getting presents all year long. Now it's my turn to do the giving. In honor of a fantastic first year, I'm giving away a $20 Amazon Gift Card to one lucky follower! All you need to do is wish Here's the Story a 'Happy Birthday' via the Rafflecopter entry below and one person will be selected randomly on July 16th. 
     Thanks for an amazing first year, everyone!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Friday, July 6, 2012

One Hot Week and Five Friday (News) Flashes

For beating the heat and (ahem) creative inspiration
     This summer of extreme heat and no rain is taking its toll on me. Today the forecast calls for 103 degrees; tomorrow, the same. Looking forward to the high in the low 80s on Sunday (so says Intellicast).
     Despite the heat, I've been busy writing, reading, and enjoying other creative pursuits:
  1. I finished The Knife of Never Letting Go and started on last year's Newbery winner, Moon Over Manifest by Clare Vanderpool. An interesting fact I learned about Ms. Vanderpool after reading a May 2011 interview with her in Literary Mama. The idea for her novel grew from a line she read in Moby Dick: 'It is not down on any map; true places never are.' Her novel is set in Kansas. 
  2. I'm continuing to rewrite a few chapters of a MG from the viewpoint of a different character. What amazing things I'm discovering by doing this! If you ever feel stalled in your writing, I highly recommend this. 
  3. Found a useful site which has downloadable character and setting worksheets at The Writer's Craft.
  4. A visit to south central Wisconsin at the beginning of this week brought to my attention a wonderful artist's retreat in Mineral Point, Wisconsin called Shake Rag Alley School of Arts and Crafts. They host workshops year-round in fiber arts, jewelry, creative writing, blacksmithing/metal arts, and you name it. My latest non-writing obsession is mosaics, and they host a class in November. Come fall, I'm going! I was in Mineral Point many years ago when my husband and I lived in Madison. It's a beautiful historic town filled with artist's studios, antique shops, live music and theater. 
  5. July is this blog's birthday month! Here's the Story is officially one-year-old on July 15th! On Monday, I'm hosting a giveaway for my followers which will run through next Sunday. Make sure you stop by sometime during the week to enter.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Happy Fourth of July from Here's the Story

Enjoy celebrating Independence Day tomorrow
 and look for a post on Friday 
detailing a giveaway for a very Special Occasion!

Friday, June 29, 2012

Looking on the Bright Side: A Friday Five

     The oppressive heat and Colorado fires this week have me feeling down, low on energy and anxious for the people affected out west. The temperature reading in my car this afternoon read 108 degrees (I'm in southern Illinois today)! If it weren't for a much-needed vacation in a few weeks, to a much cooler climate no less (see photo), I'm afraid I'd find myself wishing this summer away.
Northwoods, here I come! (photo courtesy
     Still, there's plenty to be thankful for this week, writing-wise and everyday life-wise:
  1. I had a great conversation with my agent yesterday about the direction of revisions for my MG. I'm excited to get back to this and hope this version will be stronger in the end. It's a major rework, but I'm pretty confident. I think know I can...I know I can...I know I can...   
  2. I received word that my non-fiction article about an awesome group of conservation-minded kids is under consideration. More details to come if it sells.
  3. I'm finishing up The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness. A fantastic book! If you're not familiar with the premise, the MC's town has been infected with a germ which allows every person to hear the 'Noise', or thoughts, of everyone else. Tricky writing to pull off technique-wise but Ness, of course, is a master. 
  4. Yesterday was a potentially expensive day. The day started with an appointment to get the vibrating steering wheel of our car fixed, followed by a trip to Verizon Wireless for a broken cell phone. Turns out the dealership was at fault for the steering wheel problem and the cell phone was replaced for free. LOVE when that happens!
  5. This blog's birthday is coming up in July. It's hard to believe I've been at this a year already. Stay tuned for the Blog Birthday Giveaway news next week.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Planting Seeds for Fruitful Writing

     After planting the garden last month, my son and I hovered over the fence everyday, waiting for the seedlings to poke through the soil. Then - viola! - there they were.
    Carrots, check
    Red-leaf lettuce, check
    Zucchini, check
    Sugar snap peas, nada.
    Uh oh.
    "Maybe we planted the seeds too deep," my son said to me as we dragged our trowels across the dirt, making another trough for the seeds.
    "Or too shallow and the birds ate them," I offered.
     Or maybe it had nothing to do with our planting skills at all. Maybe it was just another incident of Mystery Garden Fail. The pea trellis he built from metal stakes and wire the month before stood woefully bare. Now it had to wait another month to get any use.
    So we started over. We dropped the seeds into the trough. He brushed dirt over them and watered every night. On Day 13 of the Second Pea-Planting Venture, seedlings started popping through the dirt. Our relief was short-lived when, by the next morning, we found them chewed to nubs.
    Then last night I saw the culprit: a baby bunny hiding in the tiger lily patch slipped out from under the leaves and started chewing on the newest pea seedlings. Hmmm. So far he's content with those and the dandelion leaves along the border. We stuck a cheap wire fence around the lettuce and carrots. We've given up on the peas for now.
    Writing is like gardening. Sometimes we write and write and write, producing nothing more than words on a page. The sentences don't grow into paragraphs that grow into chapters that develop into a manuscript that tells a good story, no matter what we do. Or maybe we write a good story but it's not a marketable story. It languishes in slush piles. It collects rejections.
    Next spring we'll line the bottom of the garden fence with wire mesh to keep the rabbits from slipping under for their late-night snacks. We've learned from experience, and that sometimes we have to start over, reexamining our methods. But that's okay, right?
    Writing, even if it seems fruitless, is how we learn to be better writers.
    "All we can do is write dutifully and day after day, every day, giving our work the very best of what we are capable." - Madeleine L'Engle

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

An Exercise in Crafting Characters

    'The room around you disappears, time alters shape, and you are transported by the spell of words on a page. We've all had that marvelous reading experience. And almost always, what makes it happen is intense, even passionate, interest in the fate of a character in that story.'
          - Nancy Kress, from Characters, Emotion, and Viewpoint
                                                      (Writer's Digest Books, 2005)
     I bet you can name a character or two from a book in a blink who has made an indelible impression on you. Ready? Go!
     For me, it has always been Jo Marsh and Scarlett O'Hara. Maybe since I read both books in my early teens those characters made a mark on impressionable me. But I suspect it had more to do with the well-rounded characters which each of the authors crafted. More recently, I am in awe of John Green's Hazel and Augustus in The Fault in Our Stars.
     Today, I'm meeting with my writing group to draw from a hat the names of different places around town. Then we'll scatter to these locations and write for a specified amount of time, observing the people, activities, and setting in our assigned spots. I'm wondering about the characters I'll come up with from this activity: what they'll look like, what they're thinking about, who they love? I'm looking forward to meeting them.
     I'll let you know how it turns out.

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Tackling the TBR Pile

     I'm on a reading frenzy lately. I finished The Disenchantments by Nina LaCour late last week, read Alice Hoffman's Skylight Confessions over the weekend, and I'm just about finished with The Fault in Our Stars by John Green. Next up: Tighter, by Adele Griffin.
     Tighter, a paranormal YA, showed up in my mailbox a couple weeks ago. I entered so many giveaways this past month but I don't know which blog picked me as the winner (there was no name on the package). So to whomever sent me the book, THANK YOU! Books in the mail always make my day; surprise books are even better!
    What are your yesterday, today and tomorrow books?

Friday, May 25, 2012

A Slow Death for a Non-Techie's Mindset

     My boys and I visited Barnes and Noble yesterday, looking for new books. As always, the girl behind the Nook counter greeted us as we came into the store. Most times she's talking to customers so I can breeze past her. But yesterday she was alone.
     "Have you had a chance to check out the Nook yet?"
      I haven't and I told her so.
     "Do you have a minute? It's really fun," she said.
     The boys darted past her, one heading to the military history section and the other to middle grade fantasy. I wasn't shopping for anything in particular, and I'm guessing my vegetarian sub sandwich at Jimmy John's had me feeling particularly amicable so I walked over to her. She gave me a two-minute tutorial on how to use it. I admired its functions, the capacity for holding thousands of books, its compact size, its sleek design. Maybe sometime in the next few months weeks, I might get one.
     Wait. Did you just feel the ground shake beneath your feet? The earth might have just reversed on its axis. This is huge, people.
     For two years, I've been curling my lip at the thought of an e-reader. I've been ignoring them because 1) after writing on the computer for hours, the last thing I want to look at is another screen; 2) technology (to me) is something that will eventually break (because of me) or become obsolete when the next, gotta-have-it version comes out within the next year; and 3) I like the experience of reading a  book by turning a page, not pressing a button or doing that Jedi move with my fingers on the screen. I just don't NEED one.
     Buuuuut...everyday I come across books through the many blogs I read which sound really good. Their getting great buzz from the big reviewer blogs. I'm winning e-books in blog hops and I can't access them!
    So I took a Nook brochure. It's sitting on the kitchen counter now. I've been glancing at it off and on for the past 24 hours, slowing warming to the idea of buying one sometime soon. I should probably check out the Kindle and IPad, too, to comparison shop. I'm resigned. An e-reader is in my future.
    I'll always love a physical book, though an e-reader has its purpose. I can understand the appeal. When it comes time to make a choice on which format to buy -- hard copy or the downloadable version -- I'm not sure what will drive my decision. But until the Nook brochure sends me back to B & N with an intent to buy, it's still books with real pages for me, thank you.
   Yesterday I bought five.


Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Wanted: Interview Skills for Cave Dwellers

     Lately I've been doing interviews for an article I'm working on. I love doing research. The story is already there; the facts only need to be arranged in a logical order. For once it's nice to take a break from making things up. But I do need to talk to experts to lend legitimacy to my story. And therein lies the problem.
    When I worked in newspapers years ago and interviewed people more often, it was easier. You know, the talking to strangers thing. I'd do preliminary research to gather info about the subject and come up with some (hopefully) intelligent questions. Then I'd organize my questions into a logical sequence so the interview could flow like a conversation instead of a scattershot of random questions. And hopefully, my interviewees' answers would lead to secondary questions from me. Interviewing was challenging and fun! I looked forward to them (except for the drag queen interviews, but I'll save that story for another day).
      Throughout these recent interviews, I've realized one thing: I spend entirely too much time alone! Why do my nerves feel so edgy when I have to talk to someone I don't know? My procrastination skills kicked into high gear each time I went for the phone. I'll call after I put the laundry in the wait, after I clean the bird cage... and maybe the flower bed should be weeded first...and I should put dinner in the crock pot...and...
     After the last interview yesterday, I sat down at the computer. I poured over my notes and began to transcribe the fragments, words and abbreviations into full sentences. My heartbeat slowed. My breathing returned to normal. I was back in my writing cave, sitting in the familiar chair, sharing the moment with my laptop, listening to the finches scritch scritch the gravel on the bottom of their clean cage.
     It was quiet.
     I was alone.


Thursday, May 17, 2012

Contests to Keep Kids Reading and Writing This Summer

     When I was in grade school, my school district sponsored a writing contest during the summer. Prizes were awarded for the best stories in each grade. At summer's end, the winning stories were 'published' in a newspaper sent home to parents.
      I got my earliest taste of writing for publication from these contests. It was a big boost of self-confidence just to finish and submit a story, even if mine wasn't the best. Typing away on a monstrous grey typewriter, my grandmother poked away at the keys while I dictated. Our writing sessions always ended with a game of cards or a homemade vanilla shake. Writing during the summer was great fun, and didn't count for real work at all. At least for me.
     Keeping kids reading and writing during the summer can be a challenge, but the key is to make it fun. With that in mind, the sponsors of the following contests have come up with some engaging themes for young writers to keep their creativity flowing and reading/writing skills sharp during the months ahead. (And it might not hurt to stock up on ice cream for a post-writing session treat). Enjoy!

Creative Communication, a site run by teachers and educators, offers a poetry and essay contest several times throughout the year. There's no entry fee. Prizes include a cash award and publication in an anthology.

Boys' Life magazine is offering a reading contest to boys who write a book report on 'The Best Book I Read This Year'. Prizes are Amazon gift cards in several age groups. Details can be found on the magazine's website.

Totem Head's Story Contest is sponsored by AdventureWrite, and is open to kids 18 years old and under. There's a cash prize, publication on the website, and a certificate of achievement for the winning story which must start with the words 'So there I was.'

Young Voices Foundation is hosting a short story contest for three age categories, from preschool to grade 12. They're offering cash prizes, but you'll have to hurry: deadline for submissions is May 31st!

KidPub hosts a writing contest each month in different genres. The judges choose three winners, each earning gift cards. Kids post their stories for readers. You need to be a member to enter the contest.

     Don't forget the reading contests at your local Barnes and Noble. My kids are too old now, but we used to get current books as prizes for reading so many books during the summer.
     Also, your local public library sponsors summer reading programs and contests. Some of my kids' best summer memories were the cool presentations and speakers that our library hosted during June. Thinking back, we saw a balloon artist, yo-yo expert, Ronald McDonald, and animals from a local petting zoo.

Do you know of any other contests which are open to young writers?

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Random Acts of Kindness Giveaway

All this week, The Bookshelf Muse is hosting a Random Acts of Kindness BLITZ to celebrate the writing community.

Each day, Industry Sponsors are offering their own Random Acts Of Kindness to show appreciation for writers. WIN Scrivener software packages, Premium Memberships to award winning websites like Query Tracker, The Critique Circle, Auto Crit Editing Wizard, a Blogging class with Media Consultant Kristen Lamb, a Writer's Digest Agent Lecture and a Ultimate Writer's Course through Scribe's Forge (with Best-Selling Fantasy Author TRACY HICKMAN!) that will blow your MIND.

While you're there, don't forget to also grab your FREE PDF copy of Emotional Amplifiers (sidebar). This Writing Guide & Description Tool targets specific conditions like Pain, Hunger, Attraction, and Exhaustion, etc, which can stress characters and heighten their responses to emotion.

Have someone special you'd like to celebrate? Why not give them a shout out on your blog, Twitter or Facebook? Encourage people to connect with them, and improve their visibility online!

Monday, May 14, 2012

First Loves in the Eyes of a First-Grader

    I'm thinking about First Loves today, in the midst of choosing a winner for my Children's Book Week Giveaway (separate post later). Alex Cavanaugh is hosting this First Loves Blogfest, so I've been wracking my memory about these four areas, and here's what I've come up with:
FIRST MOVIE: Hands down, it was Escape to Witch Mountain. I envied the special powers of the two kid characters, Tia and Toby. Kim Richards (Tia) had great hair. And to top it off, they had a soda fountain built into their bedroom suite. How cool is that?!
FIRST SONG: The Bee Gees' STAYIN' ALIVE! My sister was jealous when I got this album for Christmas and she got Barry Manilow. But I envied her new white bell bottoms so it all evened out.
FIRST BOOK: During the entire first grade year, I continuously checked out George and Martha's One Fine Day by James Marshall. I remember thinking George was such a sneak, but he was also so lovable and sweet to Martha. I have to track down a copy.
FIRST LOVE: Despite my better judgement, I was equal parts infatuated with and disgusted with a boy named Tom Delaney in the first grade (first grade was quite the hallmark year for me, I'm realizing!). He gave plastic rings to ALL the girls in Mrs. Kinnaman's class except me. I didn't get why I didn't deserve a ring since he spent all of recess chasing ME and pulled the hat off MY head on the bus to and from school everyday. My crush lasted until fourth grade when Tom moved away. Oh, how I wanted a plastic ring!
     Check out more first loves from the other participants in the list below.
                                                Thanks for stopping by!

Winner of Children's Book Week Giveaway

Thanks to everyone who stopped by Here's the Story and entered the giveaway!

                      And the winner is...


Lexie, I'll be contacting you via e-mail to get your book choice. Congratulations!

Friday, May 11, 2012

Last Days, First Loves, and Pigs

     The school days are numbered here, down to the single digits. I finished my last substitute job today, and I can tell by the energy level in the classrooms that kids are ready for summer. Me too! Now that my kids are teens, I don't look forward to summer with equal parts excitement and dread. The dread part is gone because I'm not hunting for activities to keep them busy anymore. They're involved in camps, summer leagues, jobs of their own choosing, and two of the three are drivers. They're much more self-sufficient now than they were five years ago. Yet they're five years older. There's always a rub, isn't there?
     On Monday, I'm blogging about four of my first loves in Alex Cavanaugh's First Loves Blogfest. I met Alex last month through the Blogging from A to Z Challenge. He's a crazy-prolific blogger and is headmaster of the Insecure Writer's Support Group. You're just dying to know what movie, book, singer, and person hooked me good as an 8-year-old, aren't you? Come visit Monday to find out!
     Speaking of the A to Z Challenge, I've been watching which of my April posts have been most popular, according to the page views. Guess what has drawn the most hits? You'll never guess...PIGS! Yep, that's right. When I wrote about Jack, Jezebelle, and Jeffrey, whom I met at Best Friends Animal Sanctuary in March, the post drew twice as much interest as, say, my post on favorite first lines or canyons. I love pigs and, apparently, so do a lot of other people.
    Also, there's still time to enter my giveaway in honor of Children's Book Week. Here's the post from earlier in the week about the details. What's the prize? Any picture book, middle grade or young adult novel of your choice ($15 limit). Be sure to check out the other blogs, too. There's over 100 participating!
    Have a great weekend, everyone!

Monday, May 7, 2012

Challenge Revisited

    It was a huge milestone completing the 2012 Blogging from A to Z in April Challenge. To be honest, I wasn't sure I could stick with it in the beginning. I hadn't prepared any posts beforehand, hadn't filled in half the spaces after each letter I'd written in a spiral-bound notebook. Without even a theme to follow, I titled my first April post 'Adventure' not knowing where I was going or how I was going to get there. I could have used the writing map that I blogged about mid-month. But I winged it, right up until the end.   
    WHAT I LOVED: Meeting people with similar interests (dogs, quilting, the Southwest!); looking for artsy letters to add to my post; waking up to find I had a few new followers; the inspirational posts from the Challenge hosts; and comments that made me laugh.
    WHAT I WOULDN'T HAVE MISSED: Letter 'X' (my most half-hearted, ho-hum post); scrambling to post something before the day passed; and not being able to work on my WIP as much as I would have liked.
     A SUGGESTION FOR THE 2013 CHALLENGE: I'd really like to see the blogs categorized somehow so I could easily find people with similar interests. I loved visiting a variety of blogs, and would continue to do so, but subdividing them somehow would be ideal.
     Overall, the Challenge was wildly fun. Thanks to the Challenge hosts for keeping the month exciting, refreshing, and inspirational. And thanks to you, readers, for stopping to hang out for awhile, leave your thoughts, and give me a bit of your time.
     See you around!


Sunday, May 6, 2012

Children's Book Week Giveaway

     Are you ready to win some free books? Fantastic, because in honor of Children's Book Week, I'm one of many blogs offering you the chance to win a children's book, starting today. After you enter, click here to find the list of other blogs offering giveaways. And thanks to I Am a Reader, Not a Writer, KidLitFrenzyClassic Children's Books, and Mymcbooks for hosting the blog hop!
    So how can you win a book here? I'm keeping it simple, folks. There's two requirements: follow me if you haven't already and leave a comment, telling me your MOST RECENT favorite children's book (I say 'most recent' because my favorites change all the time). That's it!
    You have until 11:59 p.m. CST on Sunday, May 13th to enter (one entry per person). If your name is chosen (using, I'll contact you to get your book preference ($15 limit). If you happen to live outside the U.S., you'll receive a gift card to the Book Depository.

And Remember...

Good Luck & Happy Reading!

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Catching Up

     Now that I don't have to tie my post to the Letter of the Day like I did during the April Challenge, I feel a little, um...discombobulated (great word, yet I don't think I've ever used it until now). Yep, I've been thrown into a state of confusion without a theme to follow, but there are a few things I need to say:
Photo credit: DragonArtz Designs
     First, I'd like to say THANK YOU again to Lisa Campbell at All Things Campbell for my gorgeous blog makeover! I met Lisa through the A to Z Challenge and am so glad I did! Lisa had great design advice, which I needed desperately. Now Here's the Story has a nice clean look, and I love how Lisa used my monarch on the zinnia photo and incorporated that into the header. Sharp, eh? Where else have you seen a blue monarch?
     Also, I'm participating in a blog hop celebrating Children's Book Week starting Monday. The Children's Book Week Giveaway Hop has over 100 blogs signed up to offer free books and gift cards. Starting bright and early Monday morning, I'll give you the details for entering to win a picture book, middle grade, or young adult book of your choice. Then visit other blogs for chances to win more books! If you'd like a sneak peak at who else is participating, click on the badge at the right.
     Have a great weekend, everyone! See you Monday morning!

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Z is for ZENITH

During April, I’m blogging daily as a participant of the Blogging from A to Z in April Challenge (with time off on Sundays). Stay a minute. Read. Tell me what you think. Thanks for stopping by.
     Here we are.
     We've crossed the finish line, snapped the crepe paper streamer marking the end of the race. We've reached our zenith and yes, at times, I felt like I wasn't running only a full marathon (which is improbable  enough for this non-runner), but the course was entirely uphill.
      I've never blogged daily, never blogged more than three days in one week during the nine months since I've started Here's the Story. And I won't be blogging daily after today, not until next year's A to Z Challenge. It's exhausting. My house is a mess. My newest writing project wasn't in the driver's seat during April. It wasn't even riding shotgun. But that's okay, because it was a fantastic ride anyway.
     So many of you can take credit for getting me to this point. Without the encouragement, the comments, visits, and follows, I would have not stayed the course. I wish I could have visited everyone this past month to pay the encouragement forward. I've gained dozens of new followers since the Challenge started 30 days ago. I've followed dozens myself, and even though the Challenge is 'officially' over, that Linky list is still there and I'll still use it to meet those I haven't touched base with yet.
     Thank you for stopping by to read, say 'hi', follow me, make a connection.
     Stay in touch.
     Write on!

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Y is for YURT

During April, I’m blogging daily as a participant of the Blogging from A to Z in April Challenge (with time off on Sundays). Stay a minute. Read. Tell me what you think. Thanks for stopping by.
     What is a yurt?
     It's a circular 'tent', with wood slats providing the 'bones' to hold up its canvas covering in place. In ancient times, animal skins made up the covering and a small hole at the top of the structure provided a vent for the smoke when people cooked inside.
Bunny hospital yurt at Best Friends
     My first experience in a yurt was during my trip last month to Best Friends Animal Sanctuary. Four  buildings housing the rabbits were yurt-style, sturdy, wooden-framed buildings with some of the same elements you would find in a house, like framed doors and cement floors.
     Since my family visits national parks on vacation, we have stayed in many cabins on location - in Yellowstone, Glacier, Grand Canyon, and Kalaloch National Parks on the Pacific coast - to name a few. I've run across yurts as options for overnight stays as well but I've never investigated until now. Yurts range from rustic (bring your own sleeping bag and pad) to luxury, like the interior picture of the one here in Bay City, Oregon.
     I can't say that staying in a yurt is considered 'camping' per se, as I've experienced my share of leaking tents and wet sleeping bags over the years, and yurts are considerably more leak-proof. But if you enjoy the outdoors and don't mind the night sounds of wildlife, a stay in a yurt may be a comfortable step up from a tent.

Thursday, April 26, 2012


During April, I’m blogging daily as a participant of the Blogging from A to Z in April Challenge (with time off on Sundays). Stay a minute. Read. Tell me what you think. Thanks for stopping by.
     Now a catchphrase for anything trivial, 'X marks the spot' materialized earlier in this century in England as a commonly-used caption in crime scene photos. The 'X' indicated exactly where the dastardly offense, usually a murder, occurred, so says my Encyclopedia of Word and Phrase Orgins, by Robert Hendrickson. 
     In my house, 'X' will mark the crime scene, most notably my empty desk chair, if I'm not there working to finish a first draft in May. 


     Who doesn't love people-watching?
      In any given day, the opportunities to observe human behavior are endless. At schools, in the workplace, on the street, in the parks, malls, and airports, the steady stream of humanity gives writers a world-wide laboratory of characters to observe and experiment with while crafting stories.
     Clothing choice, mannerisms, speech, and physical characteristics reveal so much about people. 'Every person you meet is a lesson in human nature,' wrote Fred White, in his daily writing meditations book, The Daily Writer. Even environment affects how people behave. Someone at a Fourth of July parade will act differently than if that same person is standing up as best man at a friend's wedding (hopefully!).
     One reason I substitute teach is so I can be around kids (helpful if you write for kids, yes?). How they play, what they talk, laugh, and complain about, and the things that excite them and what bores them - this is great material for character development. Sometimes I want to sit down and write in the middle of a class period or recess duty because of what I see and hear!
     People-watching is brain food for writers; your observations will nourish your stories' characters.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

An AMAZING Coincidence for Letter 'V'

During April, I’m blogging daily as a participant of the Blogging from A to Z in April Challenge (with time off on Sundays). Stay a minute. Read. Tell me what you think. Thanks for stopping by.
I posted about the Vicktory Dogs at Best Friends Animal Sanctuary for letter 'V' late last night. Imagine my surprise when I read on Facebook a few minutes ago that today (today, folks!) marked the five-year anniversary when they were rescued from Michael Vick's Bad Newz Kennels. There's a wonderful post about it on the BFAS site, written by co-founder Francis Battista. I'm am truly astounded letter 'V' fell on this day!

Tuesday, April 24, 2012


     At first glance, the title of this post looks misspelled. But to animal rescue groups and particularly to the staff and volunteers at Best Friends Animal Sanctuary in Kanab, Utah, the word 'Vicktory' holds special meaning.
     Five years ago, 22 dogs were rescued from a dog-fighting ring at Bad Newz Kennels, owned by then-Atlanta Falcons quarterback Michael Vick (who thankfully served prison time). Traumatized physically and/or emotionally, the dogs were taken to Best Friends Animal Sanctuary to heal and begin their new lives. Some of the dogs will stay at Best Friends forever, in the care of staff members who give them the love and attention they deserve. Others have been adopted after passing the sanctuary's Canine Good Citizenship class, and living with their potential adoptive families for a six-month trial period. You can see pictures and read their individual stories here.
Two Vicktory dogs 
     The latest Vicktory dog to be adopted was Georgia in February. Trainer John Garcia worked with Georgia to socialize her, bringing her to hotels, live appearances, even the Ellen DeGeneres Show! He blogged about working with Georgia and her adoption process here if you'd like to read it. Be prepared to get choked up; it's really an emotional story.
     The Vicktory Dogs are probably the most famous animals at Best Friends Animal Sanctuary. They came from a horrendous situation. Even though their plight was widely reported throughout the media, and they were thankfully rescued, there are many animals suffering who pass under the radar. If you'd like to help in some way, why not visit your local shelter.

Monday, April 23, 2012

U is for UKELELE

     I love that word.
     It's fun to say. 
     It also reminds me of the backyard parties my grandparents used to host on summer nights. Uncle Harold, who wasn't really a relation but a family friend, brought his ukelele. He'd unzip it from the worn leather case and tune it before he played. Strumming and singing, Uncle Harold played until he put the kids to sleep in their parents' laps and the beer and soda were gone.
     That ukelele was a great instrument, one small enough to fit comfortably into my eight-year-old hands. At least it looked like it would. You see, I never got up the nerve to ask Uncle Harold if I could hold it and strum the strings. I was pretty shy. My cousin did, though, and I remember burning with jealousy as she sat  next to him in a folding metal chair. She held it like a baby doll and delicately plucked the strings. I wanted to yell, "Strum it, for gosh sakes! Play it fast and loud, like Uncle Harold!" But who was I to tell her? That could have been me getting a lesson instead of her. She wasn't afraid. She didn't miss her chance.
     Years later when Uncle Harold passed away, his wife Vi gave the ukelele to my grandfather. Uncle Harold and he had been childhood friends, and without children of their own, Vi thought my grandfather would like a nice memento of the summer songfests in our backyard. Getting my chance at that ukelele overshadowed the sadness of losing Uncle Harold. I finally had my chance!
     Last month when I brainstormed for ideas at the start of the A to Z Challenge, 'ukelele' came to mind right away for letter 'u'. I sometimes think about the ukelele when I find myself balking at taking a chance, about stepping out of my comfort zone.
     Not every opportunity comes with a second chance.
     Play your ukelele like it's the only chance you'll get.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

T is for TITLES

Today I'd like to welcome Sheila Welch, author of Waiting to Forget (namelos Publishing, 2011) who is guest-posting about titles. Kirkus Reviews called Waiting to Forget, a story about T.J. and his sister's experience in the foster care system told through flashbacks, a 'poignant, realistic tale about child-survivors.' Sheila is also an illustrator and lives with her husband in Illinois. Welcome, Sheila!

Thanks to Dawn for inviting me to do a guest post about titles. My name is Sheila Kelly Welch, and I write, and sometimes illustrate, stories and books for children of all ages --  and every one of them has a title.
Selecting the perfect name for a piece of writing is not easy. But it’s worth the effort to make a good  first impression. We've all heard about the titles that didn't make the final cut. Would you be interested in reading something with the nondescript "Salinas Valley" or "Something that Happened" on the cover? John Steinbeck's working titles became the much more appealing, EAST OF EDEN and OF MICE AND MEN. Kenneth Grahame went through many ideas, including "Mr. Mole and His Mates," "Down Stream," and "The Wind in the Reeds," before the final THE WIND IN THE WILLOWS was chosen. 
My own experience with title trouble  began after I'd completed my first novel but it had no title at all. Sending a manuscript out to publishers like that would have been like enrolling a kindergarten child with no name. I asked my oldest son to read the story. "If you can think of a good title," I told him, "and the book gets accepted, and that title is used, then I will pay you $50." Within a few hours he was back. "Don't Call Me Marda," he proclaimed. It was perfect. Many moons later, the book was accepted and I made the happy announcement. Of course, there was my son, holding out his hand for a 50 dollar bill to be pressed across his palm. After that, I decided to create my own titles.

Author Sheila Welch
When I wrote a picture book text about two princes whose sibling rivalry escalates when each receives a pet, the most accurate, descriptive title was "The Princes' Pets." My editor at Golden Books told me they had a rule: No apostrophes in titles. I suspected no one was quite sure where that apostrophe belonged. (Should it be Princes's or Princes' or maybe Princess'? And by now we 're wondering, "Are these boys or girls?") I could understand the problem, especially since the story had been transformed into an early reader. Finally, my editor said, "How about Little Prince Know-It-All?" and although it's not really his story, that is a catchy title, and it makes a good first impression. Over the years since the book's publication, when I'm visiting schools, I've met several little boys who can relate to that title. They tell me, "That's what my mom calls me!"  
In my early notes, I dubbed my latest novel simply "Adoption Story," then, as I got into it, "Not Timothy." Several months after Stephen Roxburgh accepted the book to be published by namelos, he told me that he didn't like my title. We thought of others, but we couldn't seem to agree. Finally, he settled on "Just T.J." while I was torn between "The End of Then" and "Waiting to Forget." Stephen liked both of my choices but felt that they wouldn't work with kids. Although he wasn't in favor of the idea, he let me go ahead and have several groups of middle school students vote on which of those three titles they thought sounded appealing. When WAITING TO FORGET won, my publisher graciously agreed to accept that decision. Later, I discovered one other book with that title, but it's nonfiction for adults. Still, it's disconcerting to see another author's book pop up on the computer screen. 
The novel I'm working on now was called "Sometimes Island," until I checked Amazon. There are     two books with that exact title, and about five more that mention "sometimes" and an island. I need a new title. Maybe I should borrow the one Jane Austen used initially for PRIDE AND PREJUDICE. And what was that? "First Impressions!"
Thank you, Dawn, for this chance to tell a few title tales.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

S is for SUCCESS

     I'm reading a book now called, Back Roads, Dead Cats, and What's for Dinner (that title alone wins the  intriguingly quirky award) by Jodi Marie Johnson. It's a funny memoir about the writer and six generations of her Southwestern family, full of grand misadventures, pictures, and recipes.
    One recipe stood out to me as I finished a chapter this week. It didn't include any actual food ingredients, but the recipe seemed just as nourishing. It was the recipe for Happiness, but for the sake of our A to Z Challenge, I'm substituting the word 'SUCCESS' for 'happiness' since, in my mind, the two words can be synonymous. Here it is:
'One part someone to love;
One part something meaningful to do;
One part something to look forward to.
     Mix gently together and spice with laughter and gratitude, forgiveness and kindness. Temper it with a generous portion of time spent in nature and love of yourself. Share a little with everyone you meet.'
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