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?

The End

January 27, 2013

Many novelists I know have certain criteria for when they’re going to type “The End” at the bottom of a manuscript.  I usually wait until that moment when I have a fairly continuous draft and a closing line.  When I hit upon a potential last line for my Italian chase novel, I hesitated for a moment.  I knew that this draft had a lot more holes and patches than my usual final drafts, but there was a reason for that.   I just didn’t have time to sit around and figure out transitions from scene to scene if I was going to wrap up a draft of my novel in time for Christmas break for some of my busy beta readers.  So whenever I got stuck, I used Leslie Connor’s wise advice of inserting the following marker: BRILLIANT TRANSITION GOES HERE.  So then it’s not matter of admitting failure; instead, it’s more like making a promise.

I didn’t quite make my goal of finishing by Christmas despite foregoing certain aspects of holiday cheer and turning into a Writing Scrooge. (Happy New Year’s greetings will be heading out soon.) I did find an ending for my story a few days after Christmas, but I didn’t come up with a draft where I truly felt like I could write “The End” until January 10th. But I didn’t want my first round of beta readers to be left in a state of suspense about the eventual outcome. 

So what now?  Well, PORTRAIT is off to another group of readers.  I’m in that waiting-for-feedback stage as I wait to see whether the vision in my head made it successfully onto the page.  (Darcy Pattison shares a great discussion of this issue here.)

The Society of School Librarians International Best Books

November 27, 2012

I got the news that my young adult mystery SUSPECT was on the top of the Society of School Librarians International best books for language arts (grades 7-12) last fall, but the official link never popped up for me until last week. Now I’m honored to share it, especially since I’m in such good company.

Thinking About Soccer?

November 24, 2012

Some kids aren’t really sure whether or not they’d like to play a sport. If you know someone who’s thinking about trying soccer, strongly consider handing that person a copy of Ruth McNally Barshaw’s Ellie McDoodle: Most Valuable Player This is the fourth book in Barshaw’s Ellie McDoodle series, a delightful collection of books for kids in third to sixth grade. Kirkus described the first book as “Part journal, part graphic novel, all fun.”   

While I’m recommending this book for kids who’re not sure if they’ll like soccer, the action will also satisfy kids who love the game.

Suffering from a Novel Addiction

November 9, 2012

I’m suffering from a rather deep and consuming addiction to my novel.  It shouldn’t be a surprise.  My character has hit her darkest moment now that I’ve reached 36163 words. (Another accidental pallindrome)  Now it’s the rush to the climax.   When I’m reading a book, I can’t stop turning the pages.  Writing a book is like doing that in slow motion.  Since I’m not Stephen King, I am incapable of pumping out fifteen to twenty thousand words in a week. Oh, if only.  I’m never really sure of what’s going to happen until I can type: The End.

Meeting with Students in Jefferson City

November 9, 2012

I”m looking forward to doing a day of writing workshops with students in Jefferson City, Missouri this Saturday.  We’ll be looking at using specific detail and figurative language in the morning and examining the relationship between conflict and character in the afternoon.

34343 Words

November 4, 2012

While I’m not participating in the NaNoWriMo, National Novel Writing Month, I am tapping into some of its energy.  Instead of polishing words and phrases, I’m only taking them to a certain level before moving on.  I have dreams of wrapping up a draft for my high school and college-age beta testers by Christmas.  It’s been so helpful to have pictures from our trip to Italy.  I’d been able to work off of old photos from when we used to live there as well as images from the net, but some of the shots I needed were rather specialized: gates, train tracks and bus stops. 

Gaps provide opportunities

It is forbidden to cross the train tracks.

Just Kill Him

November 1, 2012

Sometimes writers stop in the middle of conversations once they realize what they must sound like to the outside world.  Often this happens when discussing the motivations of various winged or furry creatures.  Yesterday, the woman behind the counter of the coffee shop must have wondered for a second or two whether the Missouri Mob was meeting at her place. I don’t want to give away anyone’s plot point, so here is an inexact reproduction of the conversation that will at least give you the gist of it:

X: You know that you’re going to have to kill the boy.
Y: Oh, definitely. He’s got to go.
Z: I’m not sure. That seems like such a cliche at this point.  I mean two broken legs, a couple of broken ribs, and a punctured lung. Isn’t that bad enough?
Y: No. You have to be ruthless here.
X: Seriously. It’s the right thing to do.
Z: Well, I suppose I could….
X: Come on. Just kill him.