Saturday, December 17, 2011

My Holiday Reading List

One of the nicest parts of Christmas is having leisure time to read to my heart's content. It seems the world slows down and I spend most of my time with family, food, and books. What could be better than that?

My reading list for the holidays includes:

1. GLORY BE by Augusta Scattergood - Augusta has written my favorite kind of book, historical fiction with a southern setting. GLORY BE takes place during Freedom Summer in 1964. Look for an upcoming interview with Augusta on my blog.

2. THE SCORPIO RACES - Maggie Stiefvater creates characters I care about and writes in a lovely lyrical way. THE SCORPIO RACES is getting lots of good buzz and I can't wait to see what all the hoopla is about!

3. BIRD IN A BOX by Andrea Davis Pinkney - Another historical fiction book that I'm looking forward to delving into. I enjoy reading authors with an African-American voice. Their writing is distinctive and usually has a poetic feel to it. When I read their work, I always hear the voice of Mrs. Pauline Porter, who taught me to read.

4. DAUGHTER OF SMOKE AND BONE by Laini Taylor - This novel was named one of Amazon's Top Ten Books of 2011. Universal Studios recently bought the rights to make it into a movie. My critique partner Cynthia Chapman Willis says it's a "must read." That is high praise indeed.

Happy Holiday to one and all! May you be surrounded by bright lights, good food, people who love you, and a stack of great books!

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

FLYAWAY by Lucy Christopher

While browsing in my local Barnes & Noble, I was struck by all of the "cookie cutter" books on the shelves. I made it my mission to find a middle grade book with no fantastical elements. The one caveat was that it had to be a book I hadn't already read. I found exactly one book that fit my criteria: FLYAWAY by Lucy Christopher.

The back of the book says, "Quiet but compelling. Sensitive." -- Booklist, starred review. There is was again...the dreaded "Quiet" word. I paid for FLYAWAY and took it home with me. I settled down in my favorite reading chair to discover what makes this book "quiet."

Isla is an animal lover, especially swans. Very early on, we learn that her dad is having some health problems. When Isla goes birdwatching with him, Dad collapses, and it's up to Isla to get help for him.

The rest of the book is about Isla's emotional journey. Her first crush, her school project, her relationship with her prickly grandfather, but underlying all of the normal activities is a young girl struggling to grow up. Isla must face that life is fragile, and sometimes we lose the people we love most.

In my opinion, this book is deemed "quiet" because it doesn't have a "high action" plot. No buildings were blown up, bad guys didn't chase the protagonist, a wicked witch didn't die in a puff of smoke. Still I think many middle school girls will see a bit of themselves in Isla.

I enjoyed FLYAWAY, and if you are, or ever were, a girl on the cusp of growing up, you probably will too.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

SECOND SIGHT by Cheryl Klein

Reasons to read SECOND SIGHT:

1. It will improve your work-in-progress. On page 17 Ms. Klein writes, "I am extremely wary of the word "feel" in a manuscript, as in 'Cheryl felt extremely wary.'" I had a lightbulb moment! If I have to tell the reader how my character feels then I haven't done an adequate job showing how the character feels. I'm scanning all of my manuscripts for the F word. There are many other specific tips just like this one in the book.

2. It will make you a better critiquer. Recently, I was reviewing a manuscript for a talented writer in my critique group. Her first page just wasn't working for me. I discovered the reason why on page 39. "If you're using a description beginning, be careful that the description is relevant and intriguing, and that it doesn't go on too long before it gets to some action." I quoted Cheryl Klein in my critique and it provided a dose of objectivity.

3. It will make you a better reviser. There's an entire chapter titled " Twenty-Five Revision Techniques." My personal favorite is #11, which is basically outlining the action of the book chapter by chapter/scene by scene.

4. It will help you write a better query letter. Ms. Klein uses a query letter she received from Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich and goes into all of the reasons why this letter works.

5. It will make you laugh! Ms. Klein was brave enough to print her 5th grade picture and to include some other funny photos in her chapter on how to write a picture book.

I marked up SECOND SIGHT with an orange highlighter so that I can refer back to it with ease. Now my plan of action is to delete all the F words and cut the scene where my protagonist is looking in the mirror. Ms. Klein calls that trick a cliche!

Have you read SECOND SIGHT? If so, what tips did you take away from it?

Monday, October 10, 2011

Mary Kole's Webinar

I recently attended Mary Kole's webinar through Writer's Digest University. First off, I had never participated in a webinar, and it's a very easy process. It's also pretty affordable for writers who may not have the resources to attend a conference. The fee was $89 and included a critique of the first 500 words of a manuscript.

Ms. Kole provided some pretty straightforward definitions of a couple of terms that had been bothering me. She described a high concept book as "if Hollywood is likely to come knocking, then you've hit upon a high concept." That immediately brought Alex Flinn's BEASTLY to mind because Hollywood did indeed coming knocking.

Furthermore, Ms. Kole said quiet books are editor speak for not hooky enough. These books probably don't have breakout potential.

A few other tidbits include the following:

1. The first chapter of a book should introduce the character without an information dump. It should make the character sympathetic and put him/her in action. There should be an inciting incident and it should shape reader expectations of what is to come.

2. Denial is really frustrating to a reader. In essence, the writer is trying to hold off plot development. (Denial in a novel makes me crazy!)

3. The ending should be inevitable and unexpected. (I have to noodle this concept around some more.)

About a week after the webinar, Writer's Digest provided a link so that participants can listen to the presentation over again, as many times as we would like, for a year. One suggestion I have for improvement is to make an actual transcript available. It would save so much time over having to listen repeatedly. That said, I was favorably impressed with the webinar and will probably participate in others in the future.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Picture Book Biographies

My favorite kind of illustrated books are picture book biographies. The ones I adore most are of unsung heroes like Walter Anderson. "He may be the most famous American artist you've never heard of."

Picture book biographies have a rhythm when read out loud. They summarize a person's entire life in usually under 1500 words. One of the key challenges in writing them is finding a focus, determining what to put in, and what to leave out.

Usually these books have an author's note and other material in the back for teachers and librarians. Writing them can take up to a year due to the amount of research required and the arduous task of making every word sing.

There are lots of wonderful picture book biographies out there. My personal library includes: Audubon Painter of Birds in the Wild Frontier, I Could do That! Esther Morris Gets Women the Vote, Patience Wright America's First Sculptor and Revolutionary Spy, Mr. Lincoln's Whiskers, and many more. Have you read a good picture book biography lately?

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Writing That First Page

For me writing the first page is the hardest part of writing a novel. I'll compare it to meeting someone for the first time. The conversation is a little stilted. You're in that awkward getting to know you phase. A few chapters in and the awkwardness has faded. You're old friends now who can't wait to catch up and plan your next adventure.

But as writers we must conquer the first page. Sometimes an agent or editor doesn't read any further. In the October issue of Writer's Digest, literary agent, Kristin Nelson uses four first page examples and only one of the four passes muster. She writes, "Trust me when I say that after an agent has read hundreds of thousands of sample pages--as my colleagues and I have at Nelson Literary Agency--we know."

Ms. Nelson stopped reading for the following reasons:

1. Too much dialogue.
2. Overuse of description.
3. Lack of tension.

If you get a chance, pick up a copy of the magazine. You can absolutely see her points.

I was thrilled to discover another article in the October issue called, "Your First 50 Pages The 4 Goals Your Beginning Must Meet." I am in the process of applying these rules, not only to my first 50 pages, but to the very first page. The opening should:

1. Introduce the story-worthy problem.
2. Hook the reader.
3. Establish the story rules.
4. Forecast the ending.

This is a harder exercise than it looks, but I am much happier with my first page from applying the concepts from this article.

A couple of years ago, I was lucky enough to receive a critique from Richard Peck. He gave me this bit of advice regarding first pages: Always rewrite the first page after you've written the last one. That really ties in well with #4 Forecast the ending.

What are your thoughts regarding the infernal first page? I'd love even more pointers on how to make them sing!

Friday, August 19, 2011

Writing Conference Blues

An acquaintance of mine confessed that she cried all the way home from a recent SCBWI conference. I am not that girl, but I have been. This business is hard. For every writer that has a dream conference experience, there are hundreds who leave less than thrilled. Most are beginners. It's all about setting appropriate expectations.

I left my last conference in a mellow mood, but then I'm no longer expecting an editor to jump across the table and buy my book. So what exactly are realistic expectations from attending a conference?

1. You'll discover great books that you might not have heard of otherwise.
2. You'll have the chance to meet other writers that share your passion. Some of them will turn out to be lifelong friends.
3. You'll compile market information and begin to know which houses are appropriate for your work.
4. You'll attend workshops and pick up tips to improve your writing.
5. For an additional fee, you can usually have a chapter of your work critiqued.

That's it. That's what 99% of us can expect for our conference dollars. But as a disclaimer, I know four writers who actually met the editors who bought their books during critique sessions. So it can happen, but keep in mind that I've been attending conferences since 2005. My advice is to save yourself a lot of heartache and set realistic expectations. Any good thing that happens beyond that will be icing on the cake!

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Digital Media With Emma Dryden, Rubin Pfeffer, and Loreen Leedy

In the Digital Media Track at SCBWI Orlando, Emma Dryden reminded us the iPhone and the Kindle were first introduced in 2007, only four years ago.

Rubin Pfeffer added the prediction that by 2014 consumers would own 250,000,000 tablets.

Emma Dryden told us Laura Rennert, an agent at Andrea Brown Literary, has helped her client P.J. Hoover self-publish!

Even Kirkus has started reviewing apps.

I am left with the feeling we are tettering on the brink of a revolution almost as mind blowing as when the printing press replaced the handwritten book. Since we can't stop the coming changes, the best strategy is to adapt.

Luckily, Loreen Leedy is a wealth of knowledge for authors. The following notes are from her talk:

Why Should An Author Develop an App?

1. As a companion to a print book.

2. To reissue an out-of-print title.

3. To explore a niche market that a traditional publisher may not be interested in.

4. To create something impossible any other way.

What Are The Differences Between A Picture Book And A Picture Book App?

1. A printed book's format is static, but an app can be designed so that a reader chooses what happens next.

2. A picture book usually has 32 pages. The number of pages is optional with an app.

3. A picture book has double page spreads. An app has a single one-sized page.

4. An app has features that a picture book doesn't (e.g. narration/sound, games/activities).

5. An app is much easier to update than waiting on the next print run.

When Designing An App Think Movement

1. Flowers bloom.

2. Birds eat worms

3. Wheels go around and around.

4. Puzzles are assembled.

5. Bikes are taken apart...and put back together.

6. Autumn leaves change colors.

For savvy content creators, the possibilities are endless!

For much more information about picture book apps check out the following links:

Loreen Leedy<

E is for Book<

Plus there's a chat about apps on Twitter Sunday evenings at 9:00 #storyappchat.

What are your experiences with digital media? Have your feelings changed about self-publishing? Do you own an e-reader? Have you purchased a picture book app?

Thursday, July 7, 2011


I took lots of random notes during the novel intensive at SCBWI Orlando. Here's a quick summary:

1. If your main character wouldn't see or notice something don't describe it.

2. Readers want to live in the moment with the character - show don't tell.

3. Give your character two to three lenses through which he/she sees the world. (e.g. In CATALYST by Laurie Halse Anderson the protagonist sees the world through a scientific lens. "Toby and I are the proton and neutron of our atomic family unit.") The language develops because of the lens.


5. Interview your characters. Ask them, "Are you alright?" Though it sounds weird, Kathleen Duey swears by this.

I'd love to hear additional novel writing tips. So leave a comment and let's discuss.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Stephen Roxburgh's Novel Revision Workshop

Wow! Let me just start with a superlative...or two!! I attended Stephen Roxburgh's workshop through the Highlights Foundation on June 19th thru 22nd.

Stephen read my historical novel in its entirety prior to the conference. He scribbled lots of notes in the margins for me to consider, but my real job is "to revise with intent." Each of us, (six participants), left with a detailed plan about how to revise our particular novel. Each plan is different.
My plan includes:

1. Outline the novel now that it is complete. Look at the emotional arc of the story. For every scene ask myself what I want the reader to be feeling at that point. How can I amp up the emotions?

2. Since my novel takes place over two years, Stephen wants me to draw a timeline and make sure the passage of time is as smooth and seamless to the reader as it can be.

3. I am to track every scene with my protagonist's boyfriend in it. Stephen thinks he comes off as a little "too good to be true."

4. For the final polish, I am to clip the pages together in 20 page increments and then shuffle. Pick a pile and start. Only polish until I feel my attention fading. Then stop and pick up another 20 pages after a long break.

He recommended that I read WINTER'S BONE and use it as one of my "guidebooks" on how to amp up emotions. I am feeling inspired to take my novel to the next level!

Perhaps the highest praise I can give this workshop is that I'd do it all over again. I consider the money well spent.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Interview With Newbery Honor Author, Grace Lin

Grace Lin is a talented picture book author and illustrator. But she is best known for her Newbery Honor novel, WHERE THE MOUNTAIN MEETS THE MOON.

1. Take us back to the beginning of your career. How did you break into the business?

I graduated from the Rhode Island School of Design in Illustration, knowing that I wanted to be a children’s book illustrator. I sent out thousands of samples of my illustrations, hoping to break in. Nothing happened for two years, yet I refused to give up. I took an assortment of jobs and kept sending out samples and pounding the pavement. Finally I received a call from Harold Underdown, who was then Senior Editor at Charlesbridge. “I’ve always liked your art,” he said, “but I’ve never had a story that matched it. Do you have a story that goes with your new sample?” I said yes, even though I didn’t (I was desperate!), hung up the phone and began to write. After countless revisions and editorial handholding, the story became my first published book “The Ugly Vegetables.”

2. I read a quote in which you said, “My soul is Asian American.” Explain how your heritage has enriched your work.

As a child I completely disregarded my heritage. I didn’t want to be Asian. But when I grew older, I realized that being Asian is actually something to cherish. When I began to acknowledge my heritage, I was surprised at just how Asian I am and sad that I didn’t know more. Asian culture is interesting to me, because it is like finding hidden parts of myself. Books are my way of rediscovering the culture I lost and sharing the culture I know.

3. After several published picture books, what prompted you to also write novels?

My first book “The Ugly Vegetables” was semi-autobiographical and remains my favorite picture book. As soon as it was published, I wanted to write a sequel and tried and tried. But everything I wrote wouldn’t fit into a 32 page format and I really struggled for years. Finally (about 5 years later) I realized the story I wanted to tell just wasn’t meant to be a picture book and I should just write it and see where it went. It turned into the novel, THE YEAR OF THE DOG. Little did I know that it would begin a novel-writing career for me!

4. Tell us about the inspiration for WHERE THE MOUNTAIN MEETS THE MOON.

The book had many inspirations, but the most obvious one is Chinese folk and fairy tales. As I said earlier, when I was a child I tried to ignore my heritage as much as possible. However, because I loved to read, my mother was able to sneak in some culture by having me read Chinese folk and fairy tales. At the time, I didn’t think those stories had much effect on me. But when I grew older and traveled to China, Hong Kong and Taiwan, those stories came flooding back to me and twisted together to make a new story—the story that became WHERE THE MOUNTAIN MEETS THE MOON.

5. I enjoyed reading your blog . For those who haven’t read the story, share the excitement of getting “the call” from Newbery Committee Chair Katie O’Dell.

For a week or two before the big announcement, I was getting e-mails and congratulations on the “buzz” my book was getting, (it had won in a couple of Mock Newbery discussions), which was very nice, but a bit aggravating. I tried really hard to put it out of my head as I was afraid of jinxing myself as well as the probable disappointment. However, the night before the announcements, my editor said something about “having to be awake at 5:30 am.” I thought she meant that if I got “the call” it would come then.

So the next morning, I found myself awake at 5 am. The minutes ticked by and by 7 am the phone had not rung and I came to the sad conclusion that the book was not among the honored. I bucked myself up, told myself it was just an award and who cared anyway? It was not a big deal.

Then the phone rang and it was Katie O’Dell from the Newbery committee to tell me WHERE THE MOUNTAIN MEETS THE MOON had won the Newbery Honor! Suddenly, the award WAS a big deal. My emotions took a big 360 degree turnaround.

Later, I found out my editor meant she had to wake up at 5:30AM to go to a 6:30 AM breakfast to wait for calls that would come (hopefully) later that hour. Basically, I put myself through an emotional roller coaster due to poor listening skills.

6. How has winning a Newbery Honor changed your writing life?

In terms of actual writing and creation, it hasn’t changed too much—except now I feel the pressure of expectations. I worry more that people won’t like my new books—most recently I had a dream that the publisher printed the ARC of my new novel using my horrible first draft and a person flung it across the room in disgust, shouting, “And this is a Newbery Honor author?!” So much for subtleties, even my dreams are getting literal.

But, professionally, it’s been very gratifying. Before the Newbery Honor, my books were always labeled “multicultural.” I’d made peace with that label, even embraced it, but I knew the label also implied limits on readership and appeal. Upon being given the Newbery Honor, the multicultural label faded away. I was no longer “multicultural author/illustrator Grace Lin” but “Newbery Honor author Grace Lin” with the new implication that my books were for everyone. Of course, they had always been for everyone, but the Newbery Honor wiped away the preconceived notions and for the first time I felt like my book was widely read.

For me, there is nothing sadder than when you create something with all your heart and passion and realize that no one (or very few people care). So when the opposite happens, it is extremely wonderful. That was the amazing gift the Newbery Honor gave me.

7. Tell us about your latest picture book THANKING THE MOON.

This book is about the Autumn Moon Festival, a huge Asian holiday that many Westerners don’t seem to know about. Everyone knows about Chinese New Year, but the Moon Festival—which is kind of the equivalent to Thanksgiving—has been overlooked. It is one of my favorite Asian holidays as it is about thankfulness and harmony. I made the book in hopes that people will become familiar with the holiday as well as celebrate it on their own. We can never have too much thankfulness and harmony in the world!

8. You’ve also written an early reader LING AND TING NOT EXACTLY THE SAME. What are the challenges of writing in that genre?

Writing an early reader is the most difficult of all the genres I’ve written for. I felt strongly that this book should be an appropriate early reader book—nowadays some early readers break the rules and use words like “outrageous,” but that can be discouraging for a struggling reader. I really wanted this book to be something that fostered reading.

So, my editor and I checked each word in the Word Dictionary to make sure it was reading appropriate for the genre. We also made sentences contain ten word maximum and limited words that were more than two syllables. I tried to repeat words and sentence structures as much as possible without being too wooden. And above all this, the story had to be fun and interesting.

That is why I refuse to call LING AND TING and books in this genre easy readers. They aren’t easy! Not for the reader and not for the creator!

9. What tips do you have for aspiring author/illustrators?

Read, buy books and encourage others to do the same. If you wish to work in this industry you need to know what is out there and support it. Read for knowledge, to enrich what you yourself will create. Buy for self-preservation. A bookseller recently told me, “I think we’ll be lucky if we have about 10 more years of book selling.” The book industry is struggling, there is no denying it. Do your part to help keep it alive, so it will have the chance to publish your books!

10. Can you give us a preview of your upcoming projects?

My next novel is DUMPLING DAYS. It is a sequel to “THE YEAR OF THE DOG” and THE YEAR OF THE RAT. It is about Pacy’s first trip to Taiwan, her parents’ homeland. It comes out January 2012.

My next picture book is, “LI NA’S LILY.” It follows a taxi driver in Beijing, China who has been given a lily by his daughter. Right now I am in the sketch phase of this book and the ambitions are quite big for it so far. I hope I can pull it off, but I may have to tweak things. It’s scheduled for release in the Summer of 2012, but things tend to change…

Saturday, May 14, 2011


I couldn't wait to read THE SKY IS EVERYWHERE, after hearing literary agent, Erin Murphy, speak at the Miami SCBWI Conference. Ms. Murphy reads a lot of YA literature, so if it was her favorite book of the season, that was good enough for me.

However, I didn't expect to fall totally, head-over-heels in love. It may be my favorite book of all time. You see, I have something in common with Lennie, the book's protagonist: we have both lost our only sisters.

Lennie's last conversation with her sister was inconsequential. It was over whether Bailey should wear a blue or a green shirt. My last conversation with Robin was over the phone, but not about anything really important either. There is no warning whenever we're speaking to someone for the last time. In hindsight, that is maddening and seems so wrong.

Lennie talks of choosing the dress her sister will wear forever. What a profound way of putting it. I chose the clothes my sister is buried in also, but in Robin's case, I chose pants. She hated dresses and there was no way I was torturing her with one for all of eternity.

I completely lost it when Lennie laments not being a sister anymore. Robin was born when I was three years old. I don't remember a time prior to being a sister, but the twelve years since her death have been extremely painful. We've celebrated many holidays with an empty seat at the table. She is my son's godmother, and I've marked every milestone without her to share them with.

I don't know Jandy Nelson personally, but somehow she knows what is inside my heart. She wrote it all down to share with sisterless girls everywhere.

It's not enough to have THE SKY IS EVERYWHERE on my Kindle. I need to hold this book in my hands. If you've ever lost someone you love more than life, read this book. You won't be sorry.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

A Life Of Its Own

My writing has a life of its own. Once I sell a story or article, it's out of my control. I let go, say a little prayer, and wish it a safe voyage. Occasionally small miracles happen.

Last Thursday I received the following email out of the clear blue sky:

Dear Shannon,

I’m doing an article on profiles for The Writer’s Guide. Lonnie Plecha--editor of Cricket--mentioned your article “A Pirate’s Life For Me” as an example of a good profile for Cricket and when I went to your website I saw that you’ve written others as well. Would you be willing to do an interview with me about your process? I could send you some questions you could answer via email if that would work for you or we could set up a time to talk on the phone.

Thanks so much for considering this interview.

All best,

Patty Pfitsch

I wrote "A Pirate's Life for Me" several years ago. Much has happened to it since that maiden voyage. It appeared in the August 2008 issue of Cricket, an updated version was published in the November 2009 issue of Ask, and now bits of it will appear in The Writer's Guide. What a lovely surprise!

Have any unexpected bits of good fortune happened to your writing? Leave a comment and tell me all about it.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

The Beta Readers

I finally have a first draft of my latest novel! I've done a couple of read throughs and made minor revisions. Now it's time for the beta readers, each of which brings different expertise to the process.
  1. Jeannine Norris - Jeannine is a picture book author, (TONIGHT YOU ARE MY BABY). Because Jeannine writes short, she's great at spotting awkward sentences, overused descriptions, and passages which need clarifying.
  2. Diana Sharp - Dr. Sharp is a reading researcher and creator of The Reading Machine, an iPhone/iPod touch/iPad app for beginning or dyslexic readers. My current protagonist has a reading disability and Dr. Sharp will lend her expertise to make sure I handle the disability in a realistic way.
  3. Cynthia Chapman Willis - Cindy is a novelist, (DOG GONE and BUCK FEVER). She's great at pointing out what's lacking in my manuscript: passages that need more description, characters that need fleshing out, and plot points that don't hang together.
All of my beta readers bring "fresh eyes" to my work. They'll uncover problems that I'd never see on my own.

I've been letting my life slide to finish this novel. It's time to take a couple of weeks and just breathe.

Friday, April 15, 2011

The Groove Train

I'm on a writing "groove train." Within a couple of weeks, (God willing and the creek don't rise), I should have a draft of my latest novel.

Every writer's process is different. I was reminded of that this morning while reading my friend, Cynthia Chapman Willis' blog. Cindy has been revising by trimming her novel, (she compares it to a good haircut). I'll be revising by adding to mine, like working in a dollop of mousse to give it a little extra volume.

During revision, I'll see places that need more description, passages that should be drawn out, time gaps that should be filled. I don't understand how Cindy writes long, and she doesn't get how I write short, but in the end we'll both have completed novels.

Tell me about the process that works for you. Does your writing need plumping up or thinning out?

Thursday, March 31, 2011

The Twitter Advantage

I enjoy Facebook's format more than Twitter's, but recently I've experienced the Twitter Advantage. For the first time ever, I am in a critique group with an author/illustrator. Eileen is interested in graphic novels...a subject about which I am woefully ignorant. So I posted on Twitter: "Need graphic novel recommendations for children." A woman that I didn't know recommended Owly. Within minutes I got a message that I was being "followed" by Owly's creator, Andy Runton. The Twitter advantage doesn't limit you to connecting with friends, but allows you to search for people that have the information you need. How cool is that? So what's your preference, Facebook or Twitter?

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Books I'm Reading Now

STORY OF A GIRL by Sara Zarr - Thirteen-year-old Deanna Lambert's father catches her having sex with a seventeen-year-old boy. The premise makes me cringe, but yet books like this remind young girls they are not alone when they make a bad decision. For a parent who says, "I don't want my child to read this," I would offer a counter argument: the book shows such negative consequences that I think any young girl contemplating sex would stop and think twice.

IT'S RAINING CUPCAKES by Lisa Schroeder - Isabel's mother decides to reinvent herself by opening a cupcake shop. The problem is she lacks gumption when things go wrong. Isabel helps her mother with the shop and learns a lot about herself in the process. This book would generate lots of discussion at a mother/daughter book club.

DORK DIARIES and DORK DIARIES 2 by Rachel Renee Russell - The tween heroine of these books reminds me of Beckie Bloomwood from Sophie Kinsella's CONFESSIONS OF A SHOPAHOLIC series. Both heroines get themselves into such outlandish situations that we as readers can't stop until we see how they are going to save the day. Another great feature of DORK DIARIES is its unique format, combining text and illustrations.

THE LEMONADE WAR by Jacqueline Davies - This book shows sibling rivalry at its finest. Evan and Jessie set up competing lemonade stands to see who can be the first to earn $100. Again the format is unique. The book contains mini posters with tips for running a successful small business.

If you've read any of these books, I'd love to hear your opinions. If you have suggestions of middle grade or young adult books that I might enjoy, I'd appreciate the recommendations.

Happy Reading!

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Switching Teams: From PC to MacBook Pro!

Time and technology wait for no writer! My husband gifted me with a new Macbook Pro for Christmas and an i-Phone 4 for my birthday.

Let's start with the phone. The i-Phone is the easiest cell phone to use I have ever owned. It also doubles as an i-Pod so I can listen to music. With one touch of the screen, I can access my email when traveling. I adore my i-Phone!

After many years using a PC, I've had a bit of trouble switching to a Mac. Here are some tips based on my experience.

1. The Apple Store is your friend. For a small fee they will transfer the files from your PC to your Mac, and provide one-on-one tutoring.

2. MacBook For Dummies is a very helpful manual.

3. For backup purposes you can't beat "My Passport for Mac." It's a small black box that plugs into one of the Mac's USB ports and provides automatic, continuous backup. (Cost $100)

4. Good-bye virus scans. So far Macs are virus free!

5. My electronics are in-sync! I charge my phone by plugging it into the Mac's USB port and it syncs any music I've purchased via computer with my phone/i-Pod.

I checked in with a couple of writer friends who also use Macs and here's what they had to say:

"I can painlessly and effortlessly sync everything for the first time in my entire life. I can get apps like QuickCal, which make my life easier by orders of magnitude, yet are free or mainly cost me less than ten bucks. I can listen to music I like on Pandora because it magically arrives on my i-Phone - and all I had to do was name one thing for it to do that." Gina Hagler

Cynthia Willis says: "If I have a problem the Apple Store is nearby. I simply bring my laptop in and the problem is fixed. I also love all the software that comes with a Mac - iPhoto, iDVD, iMovie. My one and only gripe would be that Macs tend to outdate themselves very quickly. Visiting an Apple Store with a three-year-old computer is like walking in with a dinosaur in your arms."

I haven't taken the time yet to explore all of the software that Cynthia mentions. I'm finding the Mac to be a continuous learning process...I still haven't figured out how to add pictures to my blog. The Apple Store employees have their work cut out for them!

Please share any advantages/disadvantages you've experienced with the Mac. And if you have questions, post them and I'll ask one of my more experienced friends to chime in!

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Tidbits from Cinda Williams Chima, Paul Zelinsky, and Robin Wasserman

SCBWI Miami, January 2011

Fantasy Writers: Cinda Williams Chima said her life and her books are all about transformation. Her website has helpful links and tips, many geared toward fantasy writers. One tip is sort of discouraging, but I agree with it anyway, "Don't be a writer unless you have to...there are easier, more reliable ways of making money." Cinda's latest book THE GRAY WOLF THRONE will be released on September 20, 2011. THE EXILED QUEEN is in stores now.

Illustrators: Caldecott winner, Paul Zelinsky, broadened my view of fantasy. He said fantasy today is "a world that is not bound only by our laws." He challenged us to ask the question: "What if our world is more than it seems?" To view some of Paul's wonderful illustrations check out his website.

YA Writers: YA author, Robin Wasserman offered the following tips:

  1. Use the software Scrivener to organize research notes. More about Scrivener here.
  2. Watch the television series "Friday Night Lights" to better understand teens.
  3. Google Scott Westerfeld's presentation "Slanguage: Teen Voices and Teen Vernaculars."
  4. Google Patricia Wrede's article about "Worldbuilding."

You can read more about Robin Wasserman at her website.

If anybody has actually tried Scrivener, I'd love to hear about your experience. How difficult is it to use? Pros and cons.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Bruce Hale: A Man of Many Hats

Bruce Hale, author of SNORING BEAUTY and the Chet Gecko mystery series, delivered the kickoff speech at our Miami SCBWI Conference. To say he was phenomenal is an understatement.

I read on Bruce Hale's blog that prior to writing children's books, he worked as an actor and a deejay. He still loves to perform and has appeared on stage and television. None of that experience has gone to waste. Bruce Hale is first and foremost an entertainer.

Bruce's talk centered on the following six principles:

  1. Start a good habit - cut time blogging, facebooking, tweeting etc.
  2. Write like your hair is on fire - driven by passion.
  3. Think it through, and take the big view - ask questions like a three-year-old. Keep asking why.
  4. Teamwork makes the dream work - critique groups, conferences.
  5. Face the iron tiger - FEAR. Fear never stops.
  6. Beat resistance with persistence - what would happen if I pushed a little harder?
For Bruce's grand finale, he sang "You Gotta Be" by Des'ree. He was so infectious, that all of us rose to our feet and sang along with him.

If you'd like to be inspired by Bruce Hale, he has a free electronic newsletter full of tips for writers. You can sign up here: Bruce Hale's Writing Tips.

I recently submitted a question to Bruce and he published it in his newsletter. The question was "What happens after a writer receives a contract?" For participating, I received an ARC, (advanced reading copy), of one of the Chet Gecko mysteries.

So what happens after a writer receives a contract? You'll have to subscribe to Bruce's newsletter to find out!

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Novel Writing Tips from Erin Murphy, Joyce Sweeney, and Krista Marino

As part of the SCBWI Miami conference, I attended a "Novel Writing Intensive" led by literary agent, Erin Murphy; Executive Editor, Krista Marino; and writing instructor, Joyce Sweeney.

Erin Murphy talked about the art of revision. She advised us to see our manuscripts with fresh eyes. She shared the following tips to help:
  • Apply Darcy Pattison's shrunken manuscript technique.
  • Outline after you've written a first draft.
  • Employ the nine steps for plotting fiction (found on Verla Kay)
  • Use to look for overused words.

Joyce Sweeney started by telling writers to "be in scene almost all the time." She advised using the first part of a scene to orient the reader (e.g. who, what, when, where). She asked us to consider what each particular scene means to the novel as a whole. To remember that each chapter needs its own arc.

Krista Marino lectured about voice. There are two kinds: authorial voice, which she defined as the fingerprint of an author, think Stephen King and Meg Cabot. The second kind is narrative voice, which she called "the character's voice."

Elements that contribute to voice include:

  • Diction - Word choices.
  • Perspective - Mental view.
  • Characterization - Appearance, age, gender, education level, ambitions, motivations.
  • Dialogue

Krista said the #1 element missing from most manuscripts she receives is interior monologue. She read us a passage from REVOLUTION by Jennifer Donnelly without interior monologue, and then she read the same passage with the interior dialogue inserted. The manuscript was much richer and more interesting with the right amount of interiosity included.

Krista reminded us that when you're young everything feels like the end of the world. She said to write effectively for teens, we should erase adult perspective and in our minds go back to high school everyday. We need to actually listen to teens to get their dialogue just right.

The workshop provided lots of great tips, and I'm summarizing an entire days worth of notes. If anything is unclear, post a question and I'll try and answer it.

Happy Writing!

Friday, January 28, 2011


During the recent Miami SCBWI conference, I attended a workshop with literary agent Erin Murphy and her client Audrey Vernick. The topic was quiet books.

What exactly is a quiet book? It's the opposite of a high concept book, (e.g. vampires). If you hear that an author wrote a vampire book, you're pretty sure of what the book will be about...romance with a vampire. On the other hand, a quiet book is hard to summarize in one sentence. Quiet books are often about relationships, sometimes they're historical. These kind of books are harder to sell and harder to market.

Ms. Murphy spoke about ways to make a quiet book louder. She used Lisa Schroeder's book, IT'S RAINING CUPCAKES, as an example. This book is technically a quiet book. It's about the relationship between a mother and her daughter. Sounds like a hundred other books, right? But the author made this book more interesting by its unusual setting: many scenes take place in a cupcake shop. The publisher was able to use this setting as a marketing hook. The cover is pink with cupcakes to appeal to tween girls.

Ways to Make A Quiet Book Louder:

1. Add a hook. (e.g. THE EXPRESSOLOGIST by Kristina Springer - main character is a barista)

2. Really unique setting. (e.g. IT'S RAINING CUPCAKES)

3. Glamorize the situation. (e.g. THE PRESIDENT'S DAUGHTER by Ellen Emerson White)

4. Wish fulfillment (e.g. ANNA and the FRENCH KISS by Stephanie Perkins)

5. Have the character make a really bad choice. (STORY OF A GIRL by Sara Zarr)

I developed a reading list of both picture books and novels from Ms. Murphy's workshop. Check out the following titles for quiet books that were loud enough to find success in the marketplace.


CLEMENTINE by Sara Pennypacker

THE SKY IS EVERYWHERE by Jandy Nelson (Erin Murphy's favorite book of the season)

THE PENDERWICKS by Jeanne Birdsall

TOYS GO OUT by Emily Jenkins


JULIA GILLIAN by Alison McGhee

STORY OF A GIRL by Sara Zarr


TRIGGER by Susan Vaught

PENNY DREADFUL by Laurel Snyder

RED GLASS by Laura Resau


ADIOS, NIRVANA by Conrad Wesselhoeft


SOMEDAY by Alison McGhee

NOTES FROM A LIAR AND HER DOG by Gennifer Choldenko

Quiet books are my favorite books to read and to write. This workshop gave me lots to contemplate as I plot my next novel. Audrey Vernick writes quiet books too. Be on the lookout for her upcoming novel, WATER BALLOON.

If you've read any of the books on the list, I'd like to hear your opinion. Or if you write quiet books, I'd be interested in hearing about your experiences.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Writing Picture Books Tips From Rubin Pfeffer at East/West Literary

I recently had the good fortune to attend a workshop at the Florida SCBWI conference led by Rubin Pfeffer. The workshop was called, "The Art (or Science) of Picture Book Submission."

Mr. Pfeffer started by telling us it's a tough market for picture books. One reason is the number and quality of good chapter books. Kids are simply graduating to chapter books earlier, which is why editors are looking for brief picture books written for the very young.

Mr. Pfeffer shared a story about a picture book he recently sold called A PRESENT FOR MILO. After he made the rounds of New York houses, he simply could not sell this book. Because Mr. Pfeffer is a champion of e-publishing, he had an "app" made of A PRESENT FOR MILO. The electronic version led to a print book deal. He opened my eyes to the possibility of a print and e-version actually complementing each other.

The following list is the criteria Mr. Pfeffer uses to evalutate picture book submissons. He credits the list to his dear friend, Andrea Welch at Beach Lane Books. A manuscript doesn't need all of these, but it should have several of them.

1. Who is the manuscript for? Is there a clear audience?
2. Is the manuscript emotionally engaging?
3. Does it meet a special childhood emotional need?
4. Is there a highly creative concept, structure, or execution?
5. Does the manuscript use clever, evocative language?
6. Is there a compelling narrative arc?
7. Does the manuscript have strong pacing? Fun page turns?
8. Wordcount...Keep it down! Has the author left enough room for the illustrator to bring it to life?
9. Are the characters memorable and relatable?
10. Is it a story kids will want to hear again and again?

I was thrilled to meet Mr. Pfeffer, and proud that I'm represented by his partner at East/West Literary, Mary Grey James.

I'd love to hear if these tips help with your picture book submissions. Happy Writing!