Archive for the ‘Writers’ Category

Blog Hop!

July 2, 2014

I’d like to thank Ann Finkelstein for asking me to participate in this blog hop. I’ve been neglecting my blog, and this gave me a reason to get back to it. Ann is a talented writer and photographer whose YA fantasy is now out on submission. You can read about her writing process here.   I’m tagging Stephanie Bearce and Nancy Tupper Ling, two charming and witty writers.

What are you currently working on?

Right now I’m working on a contemporary YA novel that’s a modern retelling of a classic.

How does my work differ from others of its genre?

I’m not aware of any recent updates of this particular work. And if there are any adaptations out there, I doubt that they feature high school cross-country runners.

Why do I write what I write?

This current project hit me over the head three days after my husband and I decided to move to Portland, Oregon. Scenes started unfolding in my head while I was out on a walk. Before I got home, I came up with any number of ways to deal the adjustments that I’d have to make to pursue the project and stay quite true to the source material. Otherwise, I tend to write the books that I like to read. My YA novel, SUSPECT, belongs to the cozy mystery genre. My contemporary fantasy, SAVING THE GRIFFIN , has been called a Narnia in Reverse by one reviewer, but one astute librarian recognized it as an appreciation for the works of Edward Eager. I always liked reading books about kids in unusual settings, so I knew that I had to pursue DEFENDING IRENE, about a girl playing soccer on a boys team in Italy.

Since I’ve also been a fan of historical fantasies, as exemplified by Megan Whalen Turner’s Attolia series and Lois McMaster Bujold’s Curse of Chalion , I’ve tried my hand at a couple of those. I’m also in the midst of working on one set in a place that has a number of things in common with Ancient Egypt a few generations after the invasion of Alexander the Great. But my Xander cemented his empire instead of having it fragment after his death. And then there are the magical elements…


–How does my individual writing process work?

I like writing the first draft of a scene by hand while using Natalie Goldberg’s strategy in her book called Writing Down the Bones. Here’s the short version. go into a coffee shop and “rent” a table through buying some kind of snack or beverage. That place is now my office, and I want to get my money’s worth. I pick up the pencil and start writing, keeping the hand moving at all times. Often, I get dialogue with just a sprinkling of action. Once I get home, I type everything into a computer and add a few more details. Then I keep working on the scene by layering on action and description. Once I bring that up to the level of a semi-polished rough draft, I head back to the coffee shop to start another scene. I usually have a general idea of where I’m headed, but I leave things open enough that I can follow inspiration. Sometimes I’ll jump ahead and write a key scene, but I usually work sequentially.


I tossed a lot of this process out the window for my current project. In two weeks, I went through the original work conversation by conversation and scene by scene and pulled together my take on what was going on with the modern characters. This took about two weeks. I’ve been building on this initial structure ever since. I’ve added some scenes of my own and taken some out of the original that just didn’t work in a modern context.


Stephanie Bearce’s Top Secret Files of History series will be coming out this fall, starting with Spies, Secret Missions, and Hidden Facts from World War II. I’m privileged to be in Stephanie’s critique group, so I’ve learned all sorts of cool things that have been hidden in history. This blog hop might wind up being one of her first blog posts on her new site. Stephanie will be posting on or around July 9th.

Nancy Tupper Ling is a talented children’s writer and poet. We met a few years ago at a retreat put on by our literary agency. I’m especially looking forward to one of her upcoming picture books. Here’s the official announcement: THE YIN-YANG SISTERS AND THE DRAGON FRIGHTFUL is a charming original fairy tale, told with heart and humor, about twin sisters Mai and Wei whose village has become encumbered by a very problematic dragon. Wei wants nothing more than to send that nasty old dragon packing. Mai… isn’t so sure. What are two sisters to do? Nancy will be posting on or around July 14th.

I’ll provide updates if needed.



Opening Up

March 3, 2013
Once upon a time, I used to agree that picture book writers had to put much more time into selecting each individual word than novelists. After all, picture book writers can have anywhere from seven words to three thousand words to work with as they work to tell an entire story.* 

I can’t speak for every novelist, but I have to say, as a person who has recently finished another draft of another first chapter,  that I am willing to put my efforts at trying to find just the right word on a par with even the pickiest of picture book writers. Effort and effect are two different things naturally.  I probably still don’t have everything where it needs to be, but I’m ready to move on. 


*And yes, I personally know writers at each end of the scale. In fact, Shutta Crum’s delightful MINE! uses the same word seven times.  I’m actually not sure exactly how many words finally wound up in Jeanie Franz Ransom’s Land of Enchantment Book Award Winner WHAT REALLY HAPPENED TO HUMPTY? Maybe it wasn’t quite three thousand words, but it was ridiculously close to that in a time where most editors are looking for projects that are much, much short.  The editors kept asking for more jokes and Jeanie kept delivering them. 


When Lack of Sympathy is a Good Thing

February 9, 2013

Here’s an excerpt from Sue Bradford Edward’s recent blog post at Women on Writing:

For about two months, I’ve been playing around with a rewrite. I’ll work on it a bit and then set it aside because it hasn’t jelled. Every now and again, I figure out a problem and get some writing done, but after two months I have 10 pages. Ten. Can you say discouraged?

Fortunately, I had a critique group meeting last weekend. This was the perfect chance to trot out my problem manuscript. These writing friends would be able to point out a few more problems for me to fix, but they would also commiserate. Or so I thought.

They refused.

That’s right. Refused.

I confess to being a member of this critique group. What did we tell her?


October 14, 2011

A friend of mine, a writer who managed to make me laugh AND get teary eyed at the same moment,  has started group-blogging as Swagger. This bunch of writers came together at a Highlights Foundation retreat and really bonded. Collectively, they’re an interesting bunch. Rich Wallace, for example, has written lot of great middle grade and YA novels. (On a personal level, he edited the first short story that I sold to HIGHLIGHTS.)

I plan to watch these people get their swagger on.

Some thoughts on writing from Donna Jo Napoli

October 4, 2011

I’ve been collecting quotes from writers and editors for the past 18 years or so.   In fact, I just delivered a talk at the Michigan SCBWI’s fall conference on Mackinac Island that shared the quotes that I’ve been collecting for the past 18 years.  I had about two pages worth of them from various events in Nebraska, Missouri, France, Arkansas and Michigan.  Each of them has become a part of my writer’s toolbox.  Within a few hours, I had several more from noted author Donna Jo Napoli.  She was one of our headliners.

On first drafts:

“The amorphous blob–that’s the emotion. That’s the blood. Your readers is bloodthirsty.”

On switching from the writer’s hat to the self-editing.

Writers are psychopaths.
Writers are a mess.

Editors are neat.
Editors are tidy.

On carving out time to write:

My kitchen floor was so clean you could eat off of it…for a month!

Writing A Thousand Words A Day?

September 1, 2011

Some of my agency sibs are annoyingly  astonishingly prolific.  They add thousands of words a day and post totals on Facebook.  I cheer in their comments section because I am honestly delighted that their words are piling up. But there is that grumpy little envious corner of my brain that’s jealous, jealous, jealous even though I understand that my slow plodding ways are a function of my talent and my approach.

But I’m always interested in how other writers work.  Here’s a great post from C.J. Omololu on how she manages to add a thousand words a day every day.

Putting in the Miles

May 21, 2011

When my son started running long distance, his coach said something pretty close to the following:  “Sprinters are born, but you can be successful in long distance if you put in the miles.”  (Now, of course, the elite long distance runners are probably also born, but I’m guessing that even they need to put in some serious miles before they can fully realize that there’s something special going on.)  Yesterday, as I watched my son qualify for state in the 1600 meters with a time of 4:27 at the end of his senior year, I couldn’t help but think back to those words from his coach.   

Writing can be like that. There are born storytellers out there like Robin McKinley and Megan Whalen Turner, who essentially sold their first books to the first editor who saw them.  I’m not saying that they don’t work at their craft. They do!  World class sprinters lift weights, run repeats, and spend hours perfecting their starts.    But determined people who are willing to put in the miles with their writing can be successful.

Dori Wins the Edgar!

April 29, 2011

My writer friend Dori Hillestad Butler has had quite a year. First, she was nominated for the Edgar for her book, THE CASE OF THE LOST BOY, which is part of her BUDDY FILES series.  Then she found herself in the middle of a censorship brouhaha when a woman from Texas complained about the specificity of Dori’s book, MY MOM’S HAVING A BABY.  (Um, hello! When a book like that is shelved in the non-fiction section, one should expect clear and accurate information.) This resulted in an interview on FOX AND FRIENDS in which Dori did a might fine job of defending libraries.   And last night, Dori’s book won the Edgar for Best Juvenile Fiction.  While many people who write for kids dream of winning the Newbery, Dori has always yearned for an Edgar nomination.  And now she holds the award in her hands.  In those day dreams, I ‘m pretty sure she never envisaged it being a broken statuette. But they’ve promised to get her a whole one.   

So hurray for Dori!   To see some of her journey, you can go check out her blog here.  I’m sure pictures from the Edgar Awards will pop up soon.

A Robin McKinley Rant

February 22, 2011

I am in the middle of going through what I hope are the last few tweaks of Calyn’s story.  Of course, the problem with tweaking one section is that I have to follow the thread all the way through the manuscript to make sure that everything still hangs together.  But I know that manuscript so well at this point that I can quickly scrolling to the appropriate scene. If I have to fix a description, it can be slow going. Even conversations can be difficult because I have to find the right moment to drop them in.   

That’s why I deeply appreciated reading the following observation from Robin McKinley’s blog today:  

* The problem with more words on more pages is the eternal prospect of REWRITING the more words on more pages.  Back in typewriter days I used to get to the end of the third draft and say THAT’S IT.  WHATEVER IS WRONG WITH IT CAN JUST STAY WRONG.^  In these sleek clicky computer days you don’t get to say ‘my fingers are bleeding’.

This is one case where the odd signs on the post are not a product of HTML gobbledy-gook.  Ms. McKinley’s blog has serious footnotes.

Writing Novels

February 10, 2011

Some writers don’t know what’s going to happen next when they sit down at their computers.  Others follow their outlines religiously.  Sir Terry Pratchett, author of the Disc World books, compared his process of writing novels to wood carving on his website:

You find the lump of tree (the big central theme that gets you started) and you start cutting the shape that you think you want it to be. But you find, if you do it right, that the wood has a grain of its own (characters develop and present new insights, concentrated thinking about the story opens new avenues). If you’re sensible, you work with the grain and, if you come across a knot hole, you incorporate that into the design. This is not the same as “making it up as you go along”; it’s a very careful process of control.

I really like this idea of working with the grain and incorporating knotholes into the design.  On more than one occasion I’ve come to a surprising realization at the same moment as my main character.  In my soccer novel Defending Irene, for example, I realized that the rather goofy keeper was the son of the strict coach.  That opened up all sorts of things to me.  In an unpublished manuscript, my main character and I literally ran into a new character at the exact some moment.  Sofia definitely qualified as a knot.  I thought that I might have to cut her out completely as she tried to take over the story.  Instead, I found ways to incorporate her into the design in a way that echoed to my main theme.